By: Steven “Bob” Marshall
Me and a friend of mine went to see Batman Live at Manchester’s MEN arena. It was far from sold out, but the stands that tickets were sold for were about 95% full. As I sat there waiting I noticed a lot of fans in fancy dress mostly as Batman, the Joker (I met and talked to two Heath Ledger styled Joker’s) or Catwoman. There was even a guy dressed as Spider-man which made me chuckle. As I looked at the stage there was a huge Batman sign on the screen highlighted in blue and you could hear police sirens been played. On the stage there were miniatures of buildings like the Gotham bank etc. So far it looked pretty good.
Now I was expecting something like the Adam West Batman but what we got was more Batman Forever minus the Bat Nipples but it works for theatre. It was also very faithful to the comics, something I really appreciated. I was also expecting it to be just for kids but I’d say it was more family show if that makes sense, there was enough for adults to enjoy aswell.
The Show – First Half :
The show itself was good, but there were some bad moments. I personally loved the opening scene with the death of the Wayne’s. Young Bruce was jumping around with his toy sword and mask after seeing the Mark of Zorro and told his father at this point he wanted to fight crime with a mask just like Zorro. Then, the Wayne’s are gunned down by Joe Chill and we saw an emotional scene where young Bruce swore revenge. This was very well done, and probably the darkest moment of the whole show. The death of the Grayson’s was next but I found it kind of boring. I’m not a fan of the circus and what we got here was quite a bit of a Cirque du Soleil with dancers, clowns, and the Flying Grayson’s performing acrobatics. I also think there should have been a scene with Batman before the death of the Grayson’s, as it seemed we were waiting ages for Batman to arrive. One thing I did love though was that Tony Zucco was the man who caused the death of the Grayson’s and there was even a scene with Dick’s father arguing with him. When the Grayson’s died, they did a slow motion rope fall which was effective as I had no idea how they’d do the actual fall. It became clear that someone had ordered the hit on the Grayson’s but we wouldn’t find out who until a little bit later. There was also a scene before the death with Commisioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne, in which it was pretty clear Gordon didn’t like Bruce very much and even accused him of being a playboy (Julie Madison and Vicki Vale even got a mention). They also had a scene at the close of the Circus scene where Gordon asks Bruce to take Dick in which Bruce reluctantly does.
We are then introduced to Wayne Manor. It was very clever how they did this, the screen would change as the head of the scene with the Circus and then Wayne Manor or whatever was required. The screen also had comic book pages flipping between scenes to bring us to the next one, a nice touch. Here we are introduced to Alfred who was superb and provided some intentional comic relief which was fun. The Bat signal is seen in this scene as Bruce takes off, as he does without people noticing which prompts Alfred to say to Master Dick “he does that”. Then we are back to Gotham and the museum is showcased (a very small building prop) and Catwoman enters coming down a rope from the rafters. The museum opens to reveal a silver cats head. Catwoman grabs the head and the finally the moment we have all been waiting for Batman arrives. They have an exchange (flying on wires which kind of made it seem Batman could fly but then I’d remember this is a stage show) and Batman took back the cats head. Batman asked her where Tony Zucco was and it was implied that she and Zucco had a romantic history. Then Batman let Catwoman go for good reason though, which became evident in the next scene. There was some sexual tension here between Batman and Catwoman which was very reminiscent of the comics and “Batman Returns” and was well done.
We then cut to a scene which introduces the shows villains and Penguin’s Iceberg lounge. Penguin is played brilliantly here and unfortunately this was the most we see of him. In this scene introduced are the Riddler (very Jim Carey inspired), Two-Face (wasn’t very entertaining) and the Catwoman (again). Tony Zucco enters terrified that the Bat is after him and Batman enters from the skyline smashing in (well the sound effect was there) in a scene that reminded me of the “your entrance was good, his was better” scene from Batman Forever (one of my favourite Batman scenes from the movie series). Batman grabbed Zucco and asked him who ordered the hit on the Grayson’s. Zucco then died laughing and he had a huge smile on his face. Batman had his answer, the Joker. Aftward’s Dick returns to the circus, only to find it empty. Then performers start to descend from the rafters, only they’re not performers at all, but goons (they kind of reminded me of those neon painted gang people in Batman Forever).
This is our first look at the Joker and Harley Quinn & they’re both fantastic, The Joker came out in a giant Jack in the box which was fantastic and the crowd were very into the Joker. They then end up kidnapping Dick as we head to intermission. All in all I’d say the first half was ok but could have been better. It also kind of just went to intermission and I thought they should have done something a bit more exciting as we headed for a break. Also the first half was very short it only lasted about 50 minutes. But the first half is basically a build up for the 2nd half so I guess it was necessary.
The Show – Second Half:
We return as the Joker has taken over the circus. The Joker then shows us the ways in which he plans to kill the Batman but first they bring out a glass ball. They then put a cloth over it and whip it back off and Dick Grayson is inside (this was a big wow moment from the audience and I have no idea how they did it). The they basically did a few more magic tricks, Harley Quinn got in a box and they pushed a load of swords through it the box opened she was gone and then appeared in a different box. They also put her in a box and blew it up and again she was gone. Then we hear the police sirens as the Batman arrives, him and Dick take on the Jokers goons which was a good scene although the fight scenes werent the best though but it must be difficult for a live show. The police arrive and Harley Quinn pops out of her box (this got a big laugh), she is arrested and taken to Arkham. Batman has disappeared at this point and reappeared as Bruce Wayne who wants to take Dick home but Dick is argumentative but he goes reluctantly. We then head back to Wayne Manor and this is where Bruce tells Dick he’s Batman, Dick tells Bruce he’ll do anything for him which prompted a guy in the audience to say (Oh My?) and that got a huge laugh from the crowd (us Brits and our perverse sense of humour). Bruce then shows Dick the bat cave (the stage covered in smoke) and Alfred explains how he taught Bruce how to fight and that he will teach Dick. They then have a little fight lesson which is a bit cheesy. We then are at Arkham Asylum where Catwoman is telling Harley Quinn that the Joker doesn’t care about her and won’t rescue her then we hear an explosion. The guards look the gate (the screen) where the explosion was but Joker pops in from a trap door and begins firing his gun (I suppose he killed the guards here). He then tells Harley that he’s going to take over the asylum). Back at the Batcave we are now introduced to the Batmobile (this was very cool, it opened from the front and the back and had two seats). commissioner Gordon then calls the Batman and we see the villains profiles on the screen. Batman decides to go help but wont let Robin tag along and jumps in the car saying he’ll get changed on the way. Alfred warns him about kissing Poison Ivy in which Batman says he wont, Alfred says that didn’t stop him last time (this got a big laugh). We then see the Batmobile going through the streets (via the screen) where it goes through the streets of Gotham, but has to be careful as the Joker has planted bombs all across Gotham. This scene was ok , it looked a little bit like Lego Batman graphics and was a bit overly long.
When Batman arrives at Arkham he is greeted by the bizarre image of dead people strapped to chains (this was very weird) and the Scarecrow (on stilts – something I feel they need to rethink as it was very Wizard of Oz) sprays him with the fear gas, and he’s then kissed by Ivy. The Joker comes back to chain Batman up (I kept thinking how lame is Batman he was warned and yet he still falls for it). We then head back to the bat cave where Dick is going crazy and surprise surprise, Alfred has made him a costume based on his circus costume. Alfred then said wait til they get a load of Circus boy (everyone laughed) and Dick said he’d come up with a name later.
Back at Arkham Robin arrives to save Batman. Catwoman helps them and gives Batman a shot of something which snaps him back to reality. They then are ready to take on the Joker and Harley. Suddenly, the screen opens to reveal the Penguin, the Riddler, Two-Face, Ivy and the goons (Scarecrow has just disappeared to God knows where). A fight ensues which was the best fight of the night with the heroes coming out on top of course. Joker has disappeared and Harley comes out with a bazooka. Catwoman tells her the Joker wont be back for her as he’s gone, when he pops up in a Joker balloon (Batman ’89 anyone). I can’t remember exactly what happens, but he decides to leave Harley behind so she blasts the balloon with the bazooka and to my surprise the balloon (which is a Joker head) catches fire and he crashed behind the screen.
The heroes are victorious, Batman asks Robin what the R stands for, (someone in the audience shouted rentboy everyone laughed) he said Robin and finally Batman kissed Catwoman, the audience was shouting kiss her at this point. Then Batman and Robin run up the stage as only Batman and Robin can do. To summarise it was a great show, the 2nd half being much better than the first and more action packed. The props were fantastic, as were the costumes. The acting was really good aswell and I was surprised to discover they were all Brits, as their American accents were superb. The Joker completely stole the show, but the actor who played Dick was very good, and Harley Quinn sounded just like she did in the animated series. All in all, Batman Live is a family fun event that had elements of most of the Batman mythos and was also very faithfully adapted. They still have some work to do with the fight scenes, (Batman’s costume was a bit bulky though so it wasn’t the easiest to move in) and they also need to work out the pacing issues, but still it was enjoyable.
Overall Grade: 8/10