“Bat Boy” at the Southwark Playhouse

This cultish musical, which ran for a few months at the Shaftesbury Theatre back in 2004, has been revived by Morphic Graffiti’s director Luke Fredericks and designer Stewart Charlesworth. Its camp, fringe feel has an appeal, taking a tabloid fantasy of a boy who is partly a bat and having fun trying to make such an outlandish premise fly.

Bat Boy is really a standard misunderstood monster story. Our sympathies lie with the young orphan, renamed Edgar and taught to speak RP, while fun is made of the small town hicks our vampiric hero seeks approval from. It’s a strong role for the titular character, played with athleticism by Rob Compton, who earns the distinction of sounding good with fangs.

Matthew White and the excellent Lauren Ward perform well as the local vet and his wife, the Parkers, who give Bat Boy a home. It gives away too much plot to detail their relationships but a lot goes on and it’s interesting enough. Touches of schlock horror and tastelessness abound and the show revels in these, injecting enough comic book touches to get away with being so crass.

But the show isn’t as funny as it could be. There’s a brilliant use of stuffed toys, but overall Charlesworth’s B-movie aesthetic relies too heavily on impressive projections, which becomes tiresome. Some performances are the wrong side of overblown, with the notable exception of Georgina Hagen, who excels as the young Shelley Parker, the show’s most sympathetic character.

The book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming is bravely outspoken in its contempt of ‘Christian charity’. The show is full of the cynicism so popular in musicals right now (think Book of Morman and Urinetown) and not much to my taste. Still, though religion and prejudice make easy targets, the aim here is sure and the bull’s-eye hit.

The music is pure pastiche, but damn clever. Composer and lyricist Laurence O’Keefe knows how a musical works, with particularly rousing numbers around the interval. The lyrics are impressive too – fast, funny and polemical. The sheer cheek of the plot carries Bat Boy a long way, to a positively Jacobean finale, so it is easy to imagine many will, you’ve guess it, be batty for this show.

Until 31 January 2015

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

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