There’s a danger with this type of ‘arena show’ that the show itself might be overwhelmed by the arena. Not here, though. There’s nothing small about Batman Live; sometimes there’s so much happening around the stage that it’s hard to know where best to look.
Especially well-used is a giant video screen, which backgrounds the real-life action with comic book panels and pages. The effect is of a Batman comic brought to life – and it’s an especially colourful issue, with all the expected locations (Wayne Manor, the Batcave, Arkham Asylum) and all the expected guest stars (Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and a roll call of famous Bat-villains).
But what of the actual story? As you might expect, it’s a familiar one: Robin’s origin, no less. And, yes, to some extent, it does take a back seat to the spectacle. The script is well-paced, however, with plenty of great dialogue – and more than one nod and wink to the, ah, aficionados in the audience.
The focus on Dick Grayson is a smart move, and not just because he’s a natural identification character for the kids. Much of the show’s first half is set at Haley’s Circus, home of the Flying Graysons, which gives those acrobats a chance to shine in their natural environment. The script diverges from comic book canon, however – whatever that may mean at DC Comics these days – as the most famous Bat-villain of all springs up to take credit for the Graysons’ murder.
Oh yeah, the Joker steals the show, with the help of a sidekick of his own: the ever-entertaining Harley Quinn. Here, he’s doing what he does best: playing the psychotic opposite of a reliably grim Batman (no camp crusader here, though he isn’t quite the obsessive Dark Knight either, preaching justice over vengeance).
It helps that the Joker has all the best toys: the sort of Heath Robinson contraptions that accompanied him through comics’ Golden and Silver Ages, looking pretty damn impressive in three dimensions. Yeah, sure, Batman has the new F1-inspired Batmobile – and this more than lives up to its hype – but for me, the most delightful part of the show was the Joker’s jack-in-the-box trick, which I won’t spoil here.
“Too subtle?” asks the Clown Prince of Crime of his audience. No, actually, just right!
Verdict: Spectacular. 10/10