Whenever I go to the O2 Arena I reignite a tingling sense of anticipation for the promise of a spectacle like no other. Each time, I leave disappointed at the failure of the shows to live up to their own hype, and reminded that most of the things I care about at the theatre have very little to do with spectacle.
While both lessons were again learned at Batman Live, this was certainly the most impressive attempt I’ve seen of its kind.
Picking up the Batman saga from the arrival of Dick Grayson (aka Robin), a young trapeze artist whose parents are killed by a local thug, the show uses the circus backdrop to incorporate acrobatics, magic and dance. There’s also a catalogue of vehicles from a hot air balloon to a full-size batmobile, not to mention countless explosions and a huge moving video screen in the shape of the iconic batwing logo.
The problem is that it’s impressive in terms of scale, but not innovation. The basic ideas have been used to far greater effect by Emma Rice’s Kneehigh and Rupert Goold’s Headlong to name but two. And while the set pieces are impressive, they constantly interrupt the action and overshadow any attempt to create character or drama. In the end, hidden behind masks and make-up and speaking through an effect-laden PA system, the cast can do nothing but proclaim their lines and strike hackneyed poses.
For all this, the special effects often go down a storm with younger viewers. And while it’s easy (and important) to offer dramatic criticism, perhaps Batman Live shouldn’t really be treated as theatre. Under the creative direction of Anthony Van Laast, whose choreography includes Harry Potter films and Kate Nash’s arena concerts, it’s more a gig-cum-theme park experience.
Like a rock gig, the biggest cheers come in recognition at the recreation of iconic moments from the Batman franchise – which are ultimately what this is all about.