Saturday, August 20, 2011

Batman Live

The scene: A industrial smog-laden city gripped by fear. Criminal gangs prowl the streets between dirty skyscrapers that lurch up into the sky like twisted stalagmites, the distant sound of a police siren heading (too late, the drivers fear) towards another crime scene. Boarded-up buildings decorate the streets as the populace walk on, terrified for their safety.

Birmingham, home of the National Indoor Arena on the evening of August the 19th, the third of five performances of Batman Live being held there. Which, thanks to tickets purchased for Tara and I for my 40th birthday by my lovely friends Tom White and Fran Grainger, we were going to see.

Batman Live tells the origins of how Batman and Robin got together (not done through a lonely hearts column, as you might expect - "Psychopathic vigilante with costume fetish seeks same").

We walked in to be faced by a gorgeous Gotham city set with a brilliant IMAX backdrop with a moon slowly rising above the skyscrapers. I couldn't see all of the set because there was some large headed idiot in front of me who insisted on constantly moving his vast noggin every time I did the same to crane around it.

The show is effectively an elaborate pantomime with all manner of wirework and pyrotechnics. Definitely designed for all ages, although Tara and I were pleasantly surprised that we weren't the only people there without kids. One of the highlights was a huge circus scene (complete with jugglers, clowns, trapeze acts and the ever-present horses on stilts - what circus is complete without stilted horses?) for the scene in which Dick Graysons parents (The Flying Graysons) were killed for not paying protection money to the mob.

It's not perfect - the choreography on some of the fights was a little poor, the wirework a little overused and the CGI backdrops used on the IMAX sometimes a little weak, but other than that it's a thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre. It's a different take on the origin of Robin (which is already upsetting a lot of the purists who really should get out more) but I couldn't recommend it more. Especially if you've got kids, based on the reaction when Joker gets beaten up by Batman at the end (*spoilers*) when some child near to me was almost wetting himself with laughter.

The costume designs have been based on the Jim Lee Batman designs, and are excellent.  Special mention has to go to Mark Frost as The Joker who clearly based his performance on the best portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime so far, namely that by Mark Hamill in Batman: The Animated Series. He literally steals every scene he's in. Oh, and it also has a supremely sexy Catwoman. And an AWESOME working batmobile.

So, great fun. It's not The Dark Knight and never pretends to be, but it packs a lot of fun and spectacle into two hours and I loved it. Adults and kids alike in the audience seemed to share the same view based on the applause the cast got at the end. (Except for aforementioned Large-Noggined chap who hated every moment of it, which he felt he had to share loudly with those around him. "Risible" was a commonly used phrase. Slightly disappointed that he wasn't so annoyed that he left in the interval and continued to plonk his large meteoroid head in front of mine again, but ho-hum. This is the same idiot that hated it so much he's liked the Batman Live page on Facebook just so he can comment to slag it off at every opportunity - to be met by an overwhelming response of "You're wrong. It was ace.")

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