Starburst has just been witness to one of the most exciting interpretations of the Batman mythos we’ve seen in a long time. Nope, we weren’t on the set of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (sadly) we were at the Manchester Evening News Arena for the world debut of BATMAN LIVE.
Any reservations we had (and we had a few considering the SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK debacle) were quickly wiped away upon entry – there before us was Gotham City itself, dwarfed by a colossal video screen back-drop (rendered as the iconic Bat insignia). The screen itself is an amazing lynchpin that compliments the ultra-modern pantomime beautifully, providing not only hugely inventive ways of extending each location, but also aids the narrative with the use of Joe Kubert-inspired comic-book panels. The Gotham City set is comprised of Monopoly piece-like constructs that, once your suspension of disbelief has been appropriately adjusted, work extremely well.
Story wise, the first half is very much an origin tale – after a brief recap of that faithful night that catapults a young Bruce Wayne of his journey, the focus shifts to Robin and his back-story. Anybody already familiar with the young ward’s beginnings will understand that this allows the show to incorporate some truly spectacular acrobatic sequences. MEANWHILE… The Penguin plots the Batman’s downfall, calling for a team-up of an array of the most iconic villains in the Dark Knight’s rogue’s gallery - we won’t spoil exactly who makes an appearance, but we will say Harley Quinn provides a scene-stealing performance.
Tonally, we’ve a version of Batman here that incorporates the earlier movies, comic-books and video games over the less family-orientated (and let’s face it, less fun) Christopher Nolan trilogy. And speaking of Nolan, his version of the Batmobile is put to shame here – The Tumbler doesn’t hold a candle to Batman Live’s representation of the vehicle. Even the last act race across Gotham to Arkham Ayslum projected on the aforementioned Bat screen backdrop (allowing for a much needed costume / set change) could teach Nolan a thing or two about how to properly pace an action set-piece.
If we were forced at gunpoint by Joe Chill to offer any downsides, we’d have to point to some of the wirework fight choreography as needing a slight rethink – it’s not quite as dynamic as you would have hoped considering the incredibly high standards of the rest of the show.
The term family-friendly gets bandied about quite a lot with products of this ilk, but BATMAN LIVE truly does appeal to all ages – from the youngest fans, raised on the many animated shows, to older fans of the Adam West and Tim Burton eras – you’ll find it impossible not to be impressed.
BATMAN LIVE runs for one week only in Manchester, before moving on to Newcastle, Glasgow, Sheffield, Birmingham, London, Liverpool, Nottingham, Belfast, and Dublin. A European tour follows after that, and the show will eventually hit North America in august 2012. Visit www.BatmanLive.com for further details.