Once you get past thinking this might be a rubber-suited prequel to the Gotham City franchise, the next thing to swallow is it’s based on a news story.  Kinda. According to alien-spotting supermarket tabloid Weekly World News, a Spock-eared child purporting to be half-human half-Fledermaus was discovered in a West Virginia (isn’t it always?) cave in 1992.  After fleeing the Feds across three States in a stolen Mini-Cooper in a caper which owes too much to The Italian Job, the Bat Boy found TV fame through cartoons like American Dad and The Simpsons, and fledged into a fully staged musical by 1997.

Adopted by a vet and his family, bat boy Edgar grows up cultured and studious so, like Elephant Man, the piece is all about early revulsion leading to redemptive acceptance and, like Billy Elliott, a red-neck blue-collar town has to deal with issues of difference.  Unusually for the genre, he gets the girl in a climax which could be Disney glucose in the wrong hands but here gets a schlock slasher treatment.

Bat Boy himself is terrific: Rob Compton’s physical theatre skills are tremendous and his sinewy scapula-popping caged contortions are both impressive and moving: he gives the noble savage a class the rest of the show has simply escaped. Morphic Graffiti’s production at Southwark isn’t a patch on their brilliant Carousel at the Arcola, but the original book by ‘Keythe’ Farley and Brian Flemming is terrible and Laurence O’Keefe’s music a harsh mash of synthetic rock and conventional musical theatre.

Director Luke Fredericks opts for an uneven fit of under-cast and frantically over-doubled Scooby-Doo cartoon characters surrounding the naturalistic adoptive family: Matthew White and Lauren Ward as the parents are excellent, but elsewhere there’s amateurish acting, an appalling sound system, deliberately dreadful wigs and some truly bad drag.

Two dozen scene changes work swiftly with splendid back projection on the upper level of the vaulted set, and some well-crafted and occasionally hilarious video by Benjamin Walden: the cat licking the banana is a highlight.

But when a cat licking its banana is the highlight of your show, that’s a bit of a problem.

 

originally written for Londonist.com