The Bat, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-Under-Lyme

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Relocating it from 19th-century Vienna to the world of today's celebrity footballers "off for a night on the ale", Monks makes some very witty points in The Bat. The score is reduced for a valiant trio and is sung by a company of 19 (more actors rather than singers). What it lacks in operatic style and top-notch musicality the show makes up for in an excess of enthusiasm, some bright characterisation and tongue-in-cheek lines.

But to argue, as the programme tries to, that this makes up for "real" opera productions being elitist and expensive isn't quite fair. The real experience offers the colour of a full orchestra, trained singers and less of a feel that the production has come out of the dressing-up box. There's room for this kind of show too, but let's be clear - The Bat is a heavy-booted version of a light-footed original. Besides, to appreciate Monks's take you really need to be familiar with Die Fledermaus and to hear more of the words in The Bat.

The prequel is acted out in a burst of frenetic activity in the overture when Stig Olof Pettersson - the Bat, a foreign manager whose misdemeanours have seen him relegated from running England to coaching Crewe - is set up off the field by star Garry Millington (Strauss's Eisenstein). Compromisingly snapped by the paparazzi, the Bat takes his revenge by having Millington score an own goal at a fancy-dress party thrown by gangsta rapper Bad Ass (Prince Orlofsky).

Millington's wife watches helplessly as first her lover Fraydo, instead of the yobbish Millington, is taken from her bed to jail, and then as Millington toys with her beauty therapist, Shell Fish (Kirsty Malpass). The Bat's Swedish cousin Ulrika (Millington's wife in disguise) finally seduces her own husband, got up as Batman (who else?), persuading him to part with the personalised Rolex she'd given him. Not premier league, but a fun night.

To 13 August (01782 717 962)