Bat Boy is an absolutely wacky, wonderful musical, from Durham University Light Opera Group, a university abounding with theatrical talent.
Bat Boy is about a boy named Edgar who is half bat, half boy. The explanation is wildly far-fetched, but then the whole musical is. The whole town hates Edgar; they think he has been killing their cows and he seriously injured a girl when he was first found. He becomes eloquent and educated and eventually wins the town on his side, but bubbling beneath it all, Edgar’s adopted father nurses the resentment that his wife loves Edgar more than him.
Lawrence O’Keefe’s score is catchy and more importantly sung well by the leads. Some members of the ensemble are less convincing and Bat Boy himself is occasionally flat, however he does make up for this with his humour and vivacious presence onstage. His mother Mrs Parker is perfect in every aspect of her role, and from all the whispers around me I could gauge that the sheriff should have had more stage time. Not only were her facial expressions extraordinarily funny, and her musicality and movement so precise, but she has a belt many people would kill for. There are also strong performances from Dr Parker and his daughter. As an ensemble too, they are extremely tight; they know this musical inside out and produce some lovely harmonies.
Bats fly and hang upside down – that would be a bit ambitious for this production so the staging simply but effectively uses ladders for the actors to hang from and climb, or just use as furniture. The choreography isn’t ground-breaking but contributes to the enjoyment of the piece and really considers the space and setting. Edgar only looks like a bat through his physicality, pointy ears and fangs, but it’s enough. It’s a bit of a commonplace, maybe but my favourite musicals don’t take themselves seriously. They are self-aware and know that none of what’s happening is normal, least of all bursting into song and dance. So many laughs erupt from a knowing glance to the audience or familiar dramatic cliché . The strongest element of this production is probably the superb delivery of Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming’s script. Not one laugh is lost.
There isn’t a happy ending, and there are obviously themes of exclusion and discrimination etc. in Bat Boy, but it’s definitely not a pretentious show. I don’t know why I felt compelled to watch Bat Boy (it looked like a joke! ) but I’m very glad I did. This is a thoroughly enjoyable show to catch if you just feel like a smile.
*** – 3 Stars
Bat Boy plays at C until 27 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.