Review: Batman Live – The O2 Arena

This is no place for Shakespeare quotes the Joker during Batman Live, and he may be right, but the Bard would have likely relished the opportunity to stage such a large scale spectacle in the O2 Arena.

In a production that cost a reputed £7.5 million to stage and has been in the planning for two and a half years, the caped crusader has been given the arena makeover.

Those expecting the darker undertones of the recent cinematic reboots may be disappointed; this is a Batman returning to his DC Comics roots – a Technicolor battle with an assembled posse of his villainous adversaries; The Joker, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Two Face, Scarecrow, Harlequin and Catwoman – all led by a suitably maniacal Joker.

This is also the potted back-story of how the young Bruce Wayne became Batman, how young circus acrobat Dick Grayson became sidekick Robin and how butler Alfred keeps more than vintage wine in the Wayne Manor cellars. There’s a huge canon of work to try and fit into a two hour run time and, given the scale of the venue its never a story that is going to be told with subtle emotional shading, resorting to much broader brush strokes to paint the dramatic tale.

The plot, however, is really only there as the framework for a series of spectacular effects that impress on sheer scale and delivery.

The aerial work impresses; performers drop, swing and fly out of the lighting rig with deceptive ease in a constantly moving visual feast. On stage level a series of impressive set pieces appear; cars, circus props, a giant Joker head and an impressive hot air balloon. Of course, no Batman show would be complete without an appearance of the Batmobile and Batman Live doesn’t disappoint. A futuristic F1-inspired Batmobile screeches on stage, shoots flares above the audience’s heads and comes complete with the trademark afterburner.

The true star of the evening, however, is the 100-feet wide video wall backdrop. Stunning animation takes us inside the comic book pages and provides an interactive backdrop to the action and an almost 3D set backdrop.

On a non-technology side, the cast comprised of actors and circus performers do well to carry the story in the cavernous space of the O2 Arena. Performances are over the top of course but they need to be in this environment. Nick Court’s Wayne/Batman and Kamran Darabi-Ford’s Robin work well together, while Mark Frost’s Joker is suitably deranged and chilling.

Batman Live is traditional family entertainment given a 21st Century makeover, though it’s questionable who is enjoying it most, the children or the parents who took them.

As Julie Taymor, U2 and the creative team behind Broadway’s Spiderman musical will attest, it’s not easy bringing a comic book superhero to the stage, but creative director Anthony Van Laast, set designer Es Devlin, lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe and video designer Sam Pattinson have created a spectacle that genuinely thrills.

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