Bat out of Hell: The Musical

20 February
Manchester Opera House

A largely game cast make the best of an incoherent book by belting out the well-known hits, but even the songs cannot lift this mess. The story is unclear, character motivations are muddied, themes and meaning are reached for but never attained. Story points are picked up and dropped at whim and I'm still not entirely sure why this stage show is set in a desolate near future, other than it seems to be the de facto setting for a rock musical. The plot mostly serves to get us from song A to song B by crowbarring convenient dialogue into a story that seems to be the mutant offspring of Romeo and Juliet, Peter Pan and Highlander 2: The Quickening.

The stage is altogether too busy, both in terms of the crowded set and the large groups of dancers, each doing their own individual background actions that pull focus from whatever it is we're meant to be concentrating on. A constant impulse to dance does not a character make, but at least this gives some parts of the chorus a clear and unwavering motivation, something lacking in the main five or six characters. In fact, the more I think about the plot, the less I know.

There is certainly plenty of spectacle and some genuinely brilliant moments of action - a crashing car and an underwater quick change stand out - but an overreliance on live video at times has you watching a screen more than the stage and, whilst a couple of fourth wall-breaking moments get big laughs, they further muddy the already inconsistent tone.

The cast do their best to perform the dialogue with conviction, but the singing and the songs are the real stars here. But the songs are sometimes tainted by an audience intent on singing along even when the song has been modified from the album version to a stagey ballad.

In short, the performances are solid, the songs are great, but the story is a mess. If you think that 'two out of three ain't bad' then you'll enjoy yourself, but you may still be better served to stay at home and listen to your old CDs.

Sean Mason

Jim Steinman's Bat Out of Hell: The Musical runs until April.

Spine

8 November
Royal Exchange Theatre

Clara Brennan's Spine is an angry, funny, moving and powerful social commentary. It focuses on the unlikely friendship between a young girl and an older woman. Amy (Rosie Wyatt) is an out-of-control 15-year-old who is down on her luck. Shunned by her friends and falling out with her parents, Amy responds to an advert for a room with an older lady.

Enter Glenda, an ageing socialist and rebel with a cause. Amy meets her match in the fiery Glenda, who educates her and fosters in her a love of learning. The relationship between the two females is the perfect vehicle for Brennan to discuss the topical themes of socialism, feminism, education for all, activism, austerity and equality.

The set was minimal, but effective, and Wyatt's flawless acting had the audience rapt. But its script was the overall winner and there were some choice lines in this play that help to deliver its messages. Rejecting the advances of her exploitative older boyfriend, Amy shouts, “The only person who owns my vagina is me!” and Glenda explains to Amy that improving the state of politics today would mean, “Less bollocks, more balls”.

Talking about her late husband, Glenda passionately tells Amy, “My Gerald didn't fight for this country and get shrapnel in his spine to make it into a haven for capitalism,” where leads to her point that political activism is a worthy cause, encouraging Amy to have a voice and speak out with the advice: “The only time you should be silent is in a library”.

Overall, Spine is an inspiring kick up the bum in these challenging times of Brexit and Trump.

Anna Tuck