Batman Live World Arena Tour [Review]

August 8, 2011 Off By Chris Hinton

Warning: This review contains some spoilers. If you plan to go to see Batman Live and do not want to learn anything about the story, read no further!
If you’ve been keeping up with recent posts at Geek-Speak you’ll know we ran a competition for one lucky person to win tickets to Batman Live, the new live stage show that’s currently touring the UK. As well as the winner receiving tickets, I was fortunate to be offered tickets myself. So, last week, a friend and I headed to Glasgow for the opening night at the SECC.
We were greeted with a large crowd of people, including plenty of children, and with a fair smattering of people dressed up as their favourite Batman characters. Fortunately, the majority of people were dressed in “normal” clothes, so we didn’t feel out of place at all.
The arena itself was set up in a horseshoe shape around a long stage. We had initially thought we were going to be sat right at the back and unable to see anything, but the setup meant most, if not all, of the audience got a good view of what was happening. I would venture to say I don’t think there would have been a bad seat in the house.
What immediately struck us was the quality of the scenery. I know that sounds like an odd thing to say, but it really did make us go “Wow!”. The stage was interspersed with model buildings, but the backdrop was a massive¬†screen on which was an image of Gotham City. Blimps circled over the cityscape, lights came on and off, and a little railway wound its way across the scene (which my friend had to point out to me three times before I finally saw it).
Batman Live tells the story of how Dick Grayson becomes Robin, and pays great tribute to its comic book roots. Scene changes are done by having the background shrink into a comic book cell, the pages are flicked, and a new cell (scene) zoomed into. Fight scenes are accompanied by comic book inspired images, and the whole thing feels like a high quality graphic novel. This is, of course, just a backdrop to the live action itself which, given Dick Grayson’s genesis as a circus performer, appropriately makes use of acrobatics and circus skills.
The lineup of villains is as important as the hero, I think, and we get appearances by Two Face, The Riddler, Catwoman and The Penguin. We do also get to see Poison Ivy and Scarecrow, although they are so brief as to make me think they were just included to make sure there were as many people’s favourites in the show as possible. The major “baddies”, though, are Harley Quinn and her psychotic crush Joker. Joker’s first appearance is just brilliant, bursting from a jack-in-the-box, and fits his playful yet crazy character down to a tee.
The story was a little slow to get going at first, although it did make sense to show both how Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson lost their parents. Once we get into the action, though, the story really takes off – fights, the Batmobile whizzing through the streets, important revelations about the identity of Batman, and so on. It’s true that time flies when you’re having fun, and the show certainly didn’t feel like it lasted the two hours we were in there.
Let me just give you a couple of real highlights before we round off:

  1. Batman facing Joker’s goons in the circus. A huge¬†Joker face emerges from behind the screen, and you suddenly realise that the hair, eyes, and teeth are people. These people stream from the face’s mouth to attack Batman. That face was pretty creepy, but very, very clever.
  2. Showing Dick the new Batmobile, designed by Gordon Murray (who also designed the McLaren F1). The Batmobile looks a little fragile but very futuristic and when Batman demonstrates the rocket launchers… well… just duck.
  3. Scarecrow’s attack on Batman. I do think more could have been made of Scarecrow and his psychotropic gas, but just watching the actor move was something to behold. He must have been on stilts, but seemed to move in such a strange, lurching way that I have no idea how he didn’t fall over.
  4. The grand finale – which involves a bazooka and some quite spectacular effects I didn’t realise were even possible on stage. I won’t go into more detail in case you plan to go and see the show yourself, but it was spectacular in the true sense of the word.

All in all, Batman Live was an amazing show. The mix of comic book style, amazing effects in the live action, and a good story made for a fantastic evening. The audience, children and (some slightly inebriated) adults included, all seemed to enjoy themselves and there was a great atmosphere afterwards. The show is well worth a look if you can get tickets. As my friend remarked to me as we left the arena once the show was over: “I think I might just have become a batman fan.”
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