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Bat Out of Hell: A revved-up trip down memory lane set to Meat Loaf classics

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin until September 10

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Martha Kirby and Glenn Adamson in Bat out of Hell. Photo by Chris Davis Studio

Martha Kirby and Glenn Adamson in Bat out of Hell. Photo by Chris Davis Studio

Martha Kirby and Glenn Adamson in Bat out of Hell. Photo by Chris Davis Studio

Lots of today’s 50-somethings spent a portion of their youth singing or screeching along to the Bat Out of Hell albums, the operatic rock-offerings from singer Meat Loaf and writer/composer Jim Steinman. The songs captured the intensity of teenagerdom in the 1970s, when the grip of social and sexual control was beginning to slip. The music press at the time sneered at the squelchy romantic lyrics and the over-the-top orchestral rock arrangements. But when did hormonal teens ever listen to anyone?

Steinman retooled the material for this high-tempo stage show. Set in a futuristic American dystopia, the ‘Lost’ are a tribe of feral teenagers living underground, forever aged 18 due to a chemical mutation. Raven (Martha Kirby), who lives in the civilised part of town with her dictator dad and lushy mum, is celebrating her 18th birthday. She falls in love with Strat (Glenn Adamson), the leader of the Lost. Daddy is not happy.

The first half pays close attention to the state of the parents’ marriage; its staleness is very funnily conveyed by Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler. This is the core energy of the show: a generation, now grown, revisits the vitality of its teenage years. Sexton is wonderful, bringing truth to a part that might otherwise feel tawdry. Fowler matches her with comic brio, mixed with an air of weary macho. Glenn Adamson as Strat is a blonde, fuzzy-haired pretty boy, but brings just the right amount of demon to the party. 

The second half starts to creak with the plot problems that often dog a jukebox musical, where hits get shoehorned into an awkward story. Things get bogged down in a complicated betrayal by one of the teens that saps the energy and could do with some cutting.

Director Jay Scheib uses a live camera to capture close-ups of various pieces of action, projected onto a large screen; this works really well. Lighting design by Patrick Woodroffe is full-on, with plenty of auditorium splashes and sprinkles, fiery explosions, good rock concert energy.

For older audiences, this will be a trip down memory lane on a Harley. For younger people, the subject of killjoy parents is a rock n’ roll perennial; here that idea gets riotously and rewardingly channelled through some of the truly epic songs of pop.

Relationships feel the heat on a sun holiday

Looking at the Sun
Smock Alley Theatre/Civic Theatre, Tallaght until tonight/ until September 10

Friends gathering at a holiday home is a scenario ripe for dramatic fun: people have time to talk to each other, the booze is flowing and guards are down. Ronald and Ronalda with their two teenage kids play host to a motley collection of pals in this American summer-house comedy.

Dad Ronald is all upbeat dadness. Mum Ronalda is so tired she keeps falling asleep at the table. Friends with rickety marriages come to stay. A holidaying pair of Australian housemates also become part of the gang.

Intrepid AboutFACE Theatre present this world premiere by Emily Bohannon. There are plenty of great setpieces in the writing: a pair of best friends, one of whom is gay, have an interesting dynamic; couples struggle with marriages that are imperfect, but also not that bad; teenagers try to assert their individuality in a suffocating environment.

However, it is not clear what is driving the overall vision. An attempt to build dramatic tension around one character’s health scare doesn’t deliver enough narrative thrust. Director Kathleen Warner Yeates pumps up the absurdist energies, and gets excellent performances in several roles. Caroline Morahan as the libidinous Tabitha is particularly impressive as she goes about setting up a threesome. Lots of enjoyable parts, but it never fully delivers a successful whole.

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