Bat Boy: The Musical, Shaftesbury Theatre, London

3.00

A batty musical with bite

Bat Boy was first revealed to the world in a 1992 edition of the US tabloid
Weekly World News, which reported the discovery, in a cave in West Virginia, of a mysterious "bat child" - two feet tall, with fangs, giant ears and an uncanny ability to see in the dark. Since then, Bat Boy has become something of a mascot for the
Weekly World News, which regularly features photographs of the creature, along with accounts of his remarkable exploits: his night vision was, apparently, a decisive factor in the capture of Saddam Hussein, and earlier this year the paper reported that, in recognition of his heroic role in saving a British army patrol in Iraq from ambush, he is to be knighted - Sir Bat Boy.

Bat Boy was first revealed to the world in a 1992 edition of the US tabloid Weekly World News, which reported the discovery, in a cave in West Virginia, of a mysterious "bat child" - two feet tall, with fangs, giant ears and an uncanny ability to see in the dark. Since then, Bat Boy has become something of a mascot for the Weekly World News, which regularly features photographs of the creature, along with accounts of his remarkable exploits: his night vision was, apparently, a decisive factor in the capture of Saddam Hussein, and earlier this year the paper reported that, in recognition of his heroic role in saving a British army patrol in Iraq from ambush, he is to be knighted - Sir Bat Boy.

This is a promising basis for a camped-up, ironic entertainment along the lines of Jerry Springer: the Opera - another musical derived from the more sensational end of American pop culture. And this production, arriving in the West End after a run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, gets off to a good start, with the chorus deadpanning couplets such as: "In a cave many miles to the south/ Lives a boy born with fangs in his mouth."

In this story - written by Keythe Farley and Brian Fleming - Bat Boy is discovered by a trio of teenagers messing around in a cave, one of whom, in his panic, he bites. Back home in Hope Falls, West Virginia, the grotesque animal is handed into the care of the local vet, Dr Parker, on the assumption that the vet will put him down. He is, however, saved by Dr Parker's wife, Meredith, who takes him under her wing and inducts him into the ways of civilisation. The show's best number has Bat Boy progressing at breakneck speed from halting, garbled syllables to a patter-song about the joys of knowledge - he can tap dance, identify a photograph of Elvis Costello, and discourse on Copernicus and Freud: "Say 'Howdy'/ To a summa cum laude." Soon, he is speaking BBC English, cocking his little finger as he drinks his tea and dressing in a white three-piece suit - Tom Wolfe meets Nosferatu. But still the townsfolk refuse to accept him, blaming him for the "plague" that leaves their cattle emaciated; and, meanwhile, Dr Parker grows dangerously jealous of the affection that his wife and their daughter, Shelley, lavish on the boy.

Good jokes and enjoyable musical pastiche (music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe) continue to crop up from time to time, but there are also a good many moments when the humour feels either misdirected or simply aimless, the tunes derivative rather than parodic. By the interval it is clear that the show has shot its bolt. The second half feels messy and occasionally desperate - a low point is the arrival on stage of the great god Pan, singing a hymn to the joys of natural love to the accompaniment of a chorus of rutting animals.

Mark Wing-Davey's production has some inventive ideas and good leading performances, especially from Deven May, who created the role of Bat Boy in the original off-Broadway production, and Rebecca Vere, primly sexy as Mrs Parker. The show's minor roles are, however, mostly undercast.

But the underlying problem is the writers' uncertainty about how to pitch the irony. The critic Claude Rawson has talked about irony in terms of achieving a balance between meaning it, not meaning it and not not meaning it: too often in Bat Boy, it feels as if they have settled for simply not meaning it (as when the bigoted townsfolk congratulate: "We can't rid ourselves of our Christian charity") or, worse, actually meaning it: the closing hymn to the virtues of tolerance, with its chorus about getting in touch with your inner Bat Boy, feels disturbingly close to sincerity. Like its vampiric hero, Bat Boy sometimes bites, but it also sucks.

Booking to 30 October (020-7379 5399)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before