Bat Boy: The Musical is based on Bat Boy, a character regularly featured in the mock tabloid Weekly World News. Combining satire, comedy and large helpings of Greek tragedy, the story is based in Hope Falls, West Virginia and begins with the discovery of Bat Boy (Rob Felstead) who is taken to the town by the Taylor siblings. After some public excitement, Sheriff Reynolds (Shannon Holmes) deposits Bat Boy at the home of local vet Dr Parker (Sebastian Junemann), where his wife Meredith (Alex Young) and daughter Shelley (Lucy Harrold) begin to take a liking to Bat Boy. At the same time, there are several subplots introduced, between Parker and Meredith, and with the town?s inadequacies at keeping cattle.
As Bat Boy quickly progresses from howling animal to a polite high-school educated young man within a single song, Felstead?s exceptional talent begins to shine through. His singing was consistently brilliant throughout the show and he controlled the audience at will, from his impassioned appeals to the perfect enunciation of ?indubitably? (although his BBC language tape-induced accent gradually faded with time). This sparkling performance was well matched by Junemann, the antagonist of the show, who portrayed Parker as a likeable yet ominous man, trying to reconcile his mistakes but too cowardly to assert himself, even to his wife.
The plot thickens when the xenophobic townsfolk of Hope Falls refuse to allow Bat Boy (now called Edgar) to the annual Revival Meeting. Meredith and Shelley disregard Parker?s word of honour and decide to take Edgar there themselves. Thus, the first half ends with Comfort and Joy, each main character singing their wishes and future plans. Unfortunately this song highlighted a few flaws in the otherwise excellent technical setup in this half, with a lack of vocal clarity from the chorus and several lead characters which failed to pummel through the orchestra?s tones to reach the audience.
Fortunately this issue was resolved as we returned from the break, and heard some extraordinary gospel singing (who needs a separate Gospel Choir society at Imperial?!) from a very convincing Reverend Hightower (David Phipps-Davis). The Revival Meeting sees Edgar winning over the townsfolk with Let Me Walk Among You, who turn on him as they learn of Ruthie Taylor?s death. As the crowd reduce to rabble, Meredith, Shelley and Edgar escape to the forest, where Holmes and Harrold continue to display their choral talent with a fine duet. They argue and separate, and Shelley encounters Edgar where they pronounce their love for each other.
This is followed by most surreal scene of the play, as the forest spirits led by a near-naked Pan (Ken Carter) appear in a variety of animal guises, from tortoise to mosquito, and we observe what seem to be two wolves humping an owl. The best laughs of all however are saved for the flashbacks, described by Meredith, where the audience are treated to an audio-visual spectacular of Meredith being impregnated by Parker, attacked by bats on the way home, and consequently giving birth to Bat Boy, with director Dale Bassett taking some time off to deliver the baby.
As the plot reaches a climax, we see a showdown between the Parker family, Edgar, Sheriff Reynolds and the townsfolk, which still retains its comedic moments despite the grotesque details as we learn of incest, rape and the failure of parental duties. This culminates in a powerful finish as Parker kills himself, Edgar and Meredith; Shelley is left with a dying Edgar in her arms surrounded by townsfolk reprising Hold Me, Bat Boy, and delivering her message to the audience: accept the beast inside you, and don?t raise cows on the side of the mountain.
The show ended amongst rapturous applause from the audience, and it remains for your reporter to mention some strong performances from Helen Gill as Mrs Taylor, Ali Salehi-Reyhani, Hannah Bundock and Katharine Webb as the Taylor children, and Holmes as Sheriff Reynolds, as well as Tom James with a brilliant cameo as Daisy. The show was well choreographed by Lucy Haken, and the quality of the acting met and exceeded Dale?s high standards. Well done to the orchestra on not putting an audible foot wrong (although slightly over-enthusiastic) and to a fantastic set and costume design. I look forward to watching the next MTSoc performance!