“Don’t talk like a slut, dear”
It seems scarcely credible that Bat Boy The Musical ever opened in a West End house – its scuzzy, B-movie schtick seems custom-designed for the fringe world and it is decently served by Luke Fredericks’ production here, for Morphic Graffiti at the Southwark Playhouse. Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming’s book was inspired by a spoof story in an American tabloid which spoke of a creature that was half-boy and half-bat, and imagines what happens when a local family takes him in under their wing in the insular town of Hope Falls, West Virginia.
Rob Compton’s Bat Boy is first found in the depths of a cave by some trouble-making teenagers who capture him after a brief struggle in which one of their number is injured. Bat Boy has been down there for years – with some pretty nifty gym equipment judging by his abs – but once placed in the care of Sheriff Reynolds and his family, finds himself longing to join society. With the help of the motherly Meredith and moody daughter Shelley, he learns to speak and to modify his blood-thirsty behaviour, but soon finds that not even the most cut-glass BBC accent can defeat small-mindedness at its very worst.
But though there are serious issues at hand here – vehement bigotry, jealous fathers, political corruption, religious hypocrisy – the pulpy tone means that the show never for a minute takes itself too seriously. Laurence O’Keefe’s eclectic music and amusing lyrics are well suited here, dealing well with the several unexpected twists and turns (Pan’s sex-ed lesson won the night for me here, Nolan Frederick looking sickening) and Mark Crossland’s musical direction sounds wonderfully breezy in the larger auditorium – it’s a score I’d certainly be interested in listening to again in all its variety.
Fredericks doesn’t always quite keep as tight a hold on his production as perhaps it quite needs though – yes it is a bonkers show but there are moments when it slips into overindulgence rather than focusing on the funny. That said, the performances are delightfully over-the-top – Miss Honey herself returns to the London stage as Meredith, Lauren Ward revelling in the increasingly bizarre turn of events, Matthew as the dastardly father-figure Sheriff plays it quite straight by comparison but Georgina Hagen as their daughter is definitely her mother’s child.
Compton’s titular character, eventually (re)named Edgar, has an appealing musicality to go with his muscularity and there’s great turns too from Simon Bailey and Lindsay Scigliano as a pastor and the mayor respectively in the multi-roling company. I was a little ambivalent about Stewart Charlesworth’s ambitious set design though, the video work not really meshing with the production style and the flashback film also didn’t quite click – I suspect it may have been a little long for such a climactic moment in the show. Still, it’s a highly entertaining bit of fun.