Tag Archives: Simon Bailey

Absolutely Batty


Southwark Playhouse, London, Saturday 24th January, 2015


Having heard the original cast recording over a decade ago, I have been eagerly anticipating seeing a production of this quirky musical by Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming and Laurence O’Keefe ever since. Today I finally got my chance.

Southwark Playhouse is suitably cavernous for this tale of a creature discovered in a cave. Shaped like a human but behaving like a wild animal, ‘Bat Boy’ is taken in by the local vet’s family, despite the other small-town (read: small-minded) folk wishing him destroyed like an unwanted pet or mad dog. The story has much in common with Edward Scissorhands – Bat Boy learns the ways of the world through home education and also through hard knocks received at the hands of supposedly civilised people. Rob Compton in the title role gives an astounding performance: his movements are animalistic: chiropteran, yes, but he also waddles around like a naked baby bird. Educated and tamed, he is as well-spoken as Niles Crane, and can belt out the musical numbers in an expressive pop-rock voice.

Laurence O’Keefe’s score combines pop and rock with musical theatre – and there are some amusing disco touches. His lyrics are also wittily rhymed – there is not a duff number in the piece.

Stewart Charlesworth’s dual-level set, with a huge screen on its upper level and scenery on trucks, allows the action to move quickly between locations – and there are some hilarious moments involving some inept puppetry to suggest the scale of the underground caverns. Charlesworth’s colourful costume designs can be described as redneck chic, with some delightfully fake-looking wigs by Sam Cox.

Director Luke Fredericks has a comic-book, schlocky approach: the characterisations are larger-than-life to match the tabloid sensationalism of the plot. Video clips are put to effective use – especially when the story of Bat Boy’s origins is at last revealed. It’s a very funny show indeed.

The ensemble cast is top notch. Simon Bailey’s evangelist preacher is a hoot – and so is his Mrs Taylor. Lindsay Scigliano makes for a powerful leader of the town council, while doubling up as teenager Roy. Lauren Ward is excellent as vet’s wife Meredith, who forms a bond with the strange creature, while Georgina Hagen as daughter Shelley is both funny and sweet, growing up as Bat Boy – now called Edgar – becomes more humanised. Matthew White is also strong as the town vet and the piece’s villain, Dr Parker – but everyone is on point; the comic business of the townsfolk doesn’t miss a trick in this detailed and relentlessly amusing show. Nolan Frederick puts in a surprise appearance in drag as ‘Mother Nature’ while Russell Wilcox’s sheriff strives to be the voice of reason as the town ignites with vitriolic and vengeful scapegoating.

At the heart of it is the question of what makes us human, and what makes us less than human, when we allow our baser instincts to take over. Edgar the Bat Boy is differently human and elicits our sympathy. The townsfolk of Hope Falls, West Virginia, are all-too disappointingly human in their revulsion, their rejection and their bloodlust against someone who is ‘other’.

Bat Boy is immense fun, and dramatically satisfying in its sensationalism and silliness; it’s a crazy cartoon of a musical that deserves a wider audience and a longer run.


Fandom of the Opera


Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 2nd April, 2013


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s money-spinning adaptation of Gaston Le Roux’s gothic pot-boiler from 1910 returns in this new production.  It’s a mixed bag of romance, suspense, pastiche and cod opera, telling the tale of an ingénue in the thrall of a deformed musical genius.  Katie Hall plays Sarah Brightman – sorry, Christine Daaé – the chorine plucked from the ballet troupe for stardom.  She hears a voice and immediately think it’s the ‘angel of music’, as you do, and not some creep perving on her through the dressing room mirror.   Said creep takes her below the opera house on a gondola ride through the mists to his underground lair, presumably in the sewer system of Paris.  In this heady atmosphere, he introduces her to the sensual aspects of music, with some performance-enhancing tips. He is seductive but rather heavy-handed with his organ.

It’s the stuff of melodrama and fairy tale but it takes itself a little too seriously, I find.  The score has some clever nods to classical music (a Mozart pastiche is fun – a high camp Marriage of Figaro sequence) but the title song sticks out like a sore thumb.  It is in desperate need of rearranging to make it fit with the rest of the orchestration.  As the phantom leads Christine to the murky depths we are suddenly blasted with electronic bass beats and rock guitars, yanking us from fin de siècle Paris to 1980s Top of the Pops.  It is incongruous and kills the atmosphere.

The phantom is also known as the ‘opera ghost’ and not only has he been causing ‘accidents’ for many a year, he demands that a particular box is reserved for him and furthermore extorts a hefty cash sum from the managers on a regular basis.  This should have tipped them off from the start; what would a ghost need of money?  Amazingly, this bullying is tolerated.  It escalates into terrorism and murder, as the phantom makes demands on how the productions should be performed.  He’s a nasty piece of work to be sure, but I have no sympathy for the ninnies who put up with this behaviour.  By the end of the first half, when Christine has decided to pair up with dashing and wealthy cipher Raoul, the phantom bleats out his heartache.  I couldn’t care less.  It is only in the second half that we get to hear of some of his back story, and his character is fleshed out a little.  It’s no excuse for his crimes however.  As a tragic figure, the phantom fails to move, in the same way that a Quasimodo or even a King Kong does.  I think the structure of the plot is to blame for this.

Katie Hall is striking as warbler Christine.  Simon Bailey’s Raoul is in good voice but doesn’t have much to do.  He is Jekyll to the phantom’s Hyde, and Christine, having dabbled with the darker side of the human psyche, opts for the respectable.  The phantom awakes her sexuality but she has to grow up and settle down with a decent, duller chap in the end.  Earl Carpenter has a fine musical theatre voice and he certainly gives it some welly but I wonder why the phantom isn’t an operatic tenor; that would make sense given the context.

Angela M Caesar is great fun as scenery-chewing diva Carlotta.  The ensemble looks and sounds fantastic but it is the staging of the production that dominates.  Paul Brown’s set design is a thing of rotating walls and floating stairs, and largely responsible for the atmosphere of the piece.  There is a couple of well-known tunes but far too much recitative that doesn’t lead anywhere.  The most effective music is at the end, in the final trio between Christine and the two men in her life.  Here, Lloyd Webber is not messing about with parody and pastiche but actually pulls off an operatic-style moment of dramatic and emotional power.  It’s a long time coming.

The show is wildly successful, packing people in with many returning to see it time and time again.  If they get something from it, that’s fine, but I find it a rather empty experience.  On the whole, I prefer Lon Chaney’s silent movie version.

phantom of the opera