Morphic Graffiti, Part 43 and the Bat Boy journey

So it has been an age since we put fingers to keyboard and gave a little bit of a blog update. Firstly Happy New Year to our readers. Can’t believe it’s nearly February already!! As you will undoubtedly know, Bat Boy is currently now playing at the Southwark Playhouse. We began rehearsals on the 1st December and even though we had a week off between Christmas and New Year, it was go go go from the outset without a moment to stop, think or even grab a mince pie! Bat Boy has been an extraordinary experience for Morphic Graffiti.

Rehearsing a show in the lead up to Christmas was both exciting and terrifying. We had three weeks and two days to block, shape and get the show ready before the holiday break and that included a day and a half filming (for the insane video projections). That is no mean feat but by December 23rd and just before we all sat down to a glass of cava and a secret santa gft, we did only our second full run through of the show!

photos by Garry Lake

photos by Garry Lake

Fast forward to two freezing days in a church hall recapping the show and then it was all guns firing as we arrived at the Southwark Playhouse. Never in the history of Morphic Graffiti have rehearsals whizzed by so fast! Particularly on a musical that is as crazy and bonkers as Bat Boy. Tech rehearsals are always insane and Bat Boy was no exception. It was amazing to see the space transform from essentially a bare warehouse ‘black box’ room into the theatre space it currently is.

The amount of organised chaos that filled the theatre that week was insane. In the theatre we had miles of wire and sound equipment being fitted in, lights going up, set being built, props being allocated space, props being made and painted, wigs being sprayed and dressed, costumes being made, band members practising, sound bites being recorded for the show, projectors being installed, projections being tweaked, projections being redesigned (!), sound checks going on, seat and fire exit dramas… the list went on and on and on!! How we even got close to opening for that first preview I shall never know and despite some bumps along the way we got the show open.

photos by Garry Lake

photos by Garry Lake

Previews are notoriously tricky things. From experience, there is an expectation beyond what is physically possible and with all the will, money and man power in the world, no new production can ever be wholly perfect when the audience comes in for the first time. Hence the discounted ticket price! But it was with a huge leap of faith that Bat Boy opened. Yes things went wrong technically but I have to tip my hat to our awesome team behind the scenes on Bat Boy. As director, with the cast, you have weeks to perfect the show on stage. Our creatives and technicians have just a few days. They all did sterling work to bring the show together over the preview period despite some horrendous obstacles and brought together the show so brilliantly.

Both Stewart and I knew that Bat Boy would be a bit of a ‘risk’ in the eyes of those who have followed our work, especially after the incredible and overwhelming response to Carousel. Being very frank blog readers, we were both a little nervous about what to do next. With Bat Boy we knew it was such a completely different choice and incomparable to Carousel. Like every project we have done it terrified us (in a good way!). We always believe a good amount of fear heightens the senses and prevents any risk of complacency or ‘sitting back’.

photos by Garry Lake

photos by Garry Lake

With its cult following and unusual production history, we could easily have run a mile but Bat Boy has such heart, such amazing music and a brilliantly bonkers story we could not resist its charms. From day one, Paul (producer) and I talked about the audiences for Bat Boy. We knew of the love for the story and the musical itself and also that some would not like its quirky leftfield approach.

The phrase ‘marmite’ (as in LOVE it or HATE it) kept cropping up. Our mission as Morphic Graffiti was to bring the show to life in a way not seen with the piece before. Stewart and I summed up the production as ‘Rocky Horror meets Pleasantville meets Twitter’ and the audiences have been incredible. There are literally hundreds of responses on twitter to the show and the social media side of theatre has been overwhelming.

As the member of a creative team behind a very loud, brash comedy, there is nothing more amazing than hearing an audience laugh let me tell you! Even more so when new audiences find new moments of comedy that you never knew were even there!

photos by Garry Lake

photos by Garry Lake

There have been reviewers who have not liked it. There have been reviewers who have loved it. Art is subjective and variety is the spice of life! The responses in the auditorium each night have been joyous and cement the notion of theatre as a live art form that is lived and felt. We are so incredibly proud of the cast, band, tech and creative team. The show finishes on Jan 31st and only a few tickets are left so please don’t miss it – L x

Some of the critic responses:

A stunning production…Against some witty projection work from Benjamin Walden and a brilliantly trashy set from Stewart Charlesworth (the spelunking Barbie dolls are a particular treat), ‘Bat Boy: The Musical’ further cements the Southwark Playhouse’s status as one of the city’s go-to venues for razor-sharp musical theatre. Time Out – Critics Choice

Morphic Graffiti’s Luke Fredericks (directing) and Stewart Charlesworth (designing) give it another of their audacious small-scale makeovers, bringing close-focus punch and ferociously pitched point to its wild portrait of the demonising of an outsider in small-town America. Verdict: Bold new take on a musical cult is the production the clever, tuneful writing deserves Mark Shenton, The Stage

Luke Fredericks’ production for Morphic Graffiti (who did so well with Carousel at the Arcola) suits the inventive gift for spectacle of this warehouse theatre: a huge overarching cave becomes a two-level stage with rapid projections offering filmic scene-shifts, and Mark Crossland leads a five- piece rock band overhead. At its heart, though, is a tremendous performance from Rob Compton as Bat Boy, renamed Edgar by his doting foster mum (Lauren Ward) and resented by her vet husband (Matthew White). Libby Purves – Theatre Cat

Bat Boy: The Musical is a raucously enjoyable evening of dark comic fun. “I shouldn’t work my problems out with food” laments our vampiric hero, a raw cow’s head dangling idly from one hand. While no animals are harmed in the making of this show, a fair few cuddly toys are seriously maimed. Whatsonstage.com

Edward Scissorhands meets Rocky Horror…this mock-tragic tale boasts an oddly lovable heart and a winning score that effortlessly swoops The Guardian

…this could be a production that plays and plays, transfers and tours. It shows the musical form pushed to its edges and how rewarding that can be. BritishTheatre.com

The production captures the deliberate trashiness of the show, while demonstrating some skilful innovations such as the use of pre-recorded video with live voiceover. It’s worth seeing just for Compton’s performance alone, but the excellent cast and wonderful book make this a fantastically fun, if flawed, cult horror love story. A Younger Theatre

The band of five, expertly conducted by Mark Crossland, covers musical styles from opera to horror movie soundtracks, from gospel to rock to rap. Many of the songs by Laurence O’Keefe are quite memorable, such as A Home For You or Hold Me, Bat Boy – I overheard several members of the audience who had owned and loved the CD before seeing the musical. The quality of the voices is excellent and the choreography impressive. This is a very creative and entertaining production that will surprise you. UKTheatre.net

And from the crazy world of twitter:

@John_Bizzell The crowd enjoyed themselves so much whilst I was working at @BatBoy_UK last night, I’m going back today as a paying punter. #HoldMeBatBoy

@RaffCovino @BatBoy_UK was absolutely insane in both the bonkers and the incredible sense of the word! #holdmebatboy

@MsCourtneyWard · Still thinking about @BatBoy_UK after seeing it on Thursday.. Thank you SO much for a brilliant & unforgettable show! I absolutely loved it!

@hannah_milks · so @BatBoy_UK was….. INSANELY EPIC!!!!!!!! the talent on the stage was just, WOW!!! amazing well done to all involved!!!!

@charliecox93 ·@BatBoy_UK was amazing tonight! Wasn’t sure what to expect but absolutely loved it! Hilarious & such a strong cast!

@carrieharayel · By the end I had tears in my eyes… @batboy_uk was awesome… funny & sad! I’m so happy I got 3 tickets for this.

@megan_harris13 On our way back to Bristol from seeing @BatBoy_UK ! Everyone go and see it! Don’t think I will look at bananas and donuts the same anymore

@SamanthaHarper1 · Jan 15 didn’t know what to expect tonight but @BatBoy_UK has outdone itself! what a phenomenal show and cast. definitely one to see while you can

@n_douglas · Feel like I’ve been high for the past two and a half hours @BatBoy_UK in a brilliant way obviously!!! @lukebayer · Thoroughly enjoyed @BatBoy_UK Congrats to all involved! Wicked cast and Production! @RobCompton88 an amazing Batboy!!