Durham University Light Opera Group’s (DULOG) show is an unexpectedly touching coming of age story juxtaposed with moments of raucous insanity. The musical tells the tall-tale of a boy born with bat features deep in America’s Bible Belt and his struggles for acceptance. Adopted into the home of a small town vet, the Bat Boy finds love, but is still constantly confronted by hostility from the townsfolk, leading to an almost inevitable confrontation.
Despite the overarching theme of the dangerous consequences of intolerance, the production manages to both touch you and make you laugh. The script successfully pokes fun at a society that endorses Christian charity but condemns anyone who steps outside the norm, yet the scenes relating to religion and to sex are some of the most memorable and funny in the musical.
The standout performance came from the Bat Boy himself who created a stunning physicality for the feral creature we initially meet and managed to maintain something alien in his movements and mannerisms even after his ascent to civilisation. The other characters were well developed and, though clearly representing many stereotypes, were handled well by all the cast. Considering the ease with which this show could have edged into pantomime, this acting skill was vital and allowed a surprising amount of empathy for the motley group of main characters, from lustful teens to the impressively rational sheriff. Indeed, a scene with Mrs Parker attempting to communicate with the Bat Boy in his own language was wonderfully tender while also having everyone in stitches.
Musically Bat Boy is an extremely strong production, with a small but tight band and not one let down among the singers. Standout vocal performances were from Mrs Parker, Rick and Bat Boy each of whom demonstrated excellent range. Unfortunately the main criticism of the show is a musical one. Though the musicians were very talented their volume levels were far too high, meaning that the audience struggled to hear most of the lyrics. While this did not hamper the enjoyment of the show, it was a consistent problem and one that could easily be addressed in later performances. There were also some issues with vocal projection from almost all actors, notable exceptions being the Sherriff and Dr and Mrs Parker.
However, DULOG have put together a skilled team and succeeded in creating something raucous, hilarious and compelling. Take your seat with few expectations because this musical is unlike any other I have seen.