Sold out for a reason
By Owen James
One world, two shows. The Very Good Looking Initiative have created the dark, satirical world of Batmania, and given audiences two immersive experiences to choose from to discover this whacky, inane place. Expo ’19 takes place in one static place at Theatre Works in St Kilda, and the Bus Tour departs from around the corner and brings you back to Theatre Works 90 minutes later, just in time for the final goodbye at Expo ‘19. Both versions of Batmania have now completely sold out.
I went along on the Bus Tour, which was undoubtedly one of the most unique theatrical experiences I’ve had in a while, but especially at this year’s Fringe (so far). As the bus visits different places in St Kilda (sorry, “Batmania”), our overly cordial, happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care tour guides (Guide Raymond and Guide Vidya) are cheery almost to the point of painful – until events take a turn for the worst. This ingenious shift in tone comes as a surprise, creating a highly engaging, alluring atmosphere. It’s a delightfully enjoyable ride, and presents many moments of black comedy at its finest. But be warned: audience members not prepared for high levels of interaction will find this the stuff of nightmares.
Both Raymond Martini and Vidya Rajan deliver delightfully energetic, hilarious, and sometimes terrifying performances. Their descent from unpredictable ecstatic mania to rabid, cacophonic-but-catatonic beasts is carried out extremely well, and secured a vast range of responses from assorted passengers (sometimes just as fun to observe as the guides). Thankfully, despite the pandemonium and public territory, we always feel safe in the hands of these skilled performers.
Our blokey, arrogant bus driver (Elliott Gee) plays an important part in the madness too, always happy to perturb and provoke Raymond and Vidya as recent arrivals to his lifetime hometown Batmania. His quirky quips and rough demeanour provide many of the biggest laughs on the bus.
As we first boarded the bus, clearly no-one was quite sure what to expect. And as we alighted at the end of the trip, the feeling hadn’t really shifted. Though Batmania’s premise has a lot of promise, the experience overall seems not fully realised or cohesive. A lot of tension is built – very successfully, which then dissipates and has no real conclusion or payoff. While this may be intended to mirror contemporary Australia, as a theatrical experience, it is underwhelming. There is a lot of fun to be had on the journey though, and I would love to see the concept executed in a future iteration on a grand scale – it could run for a very long time.
I applaud The Very Good Looking Initiative for launching such a high-concept, out-of-the-box, very special production. Batmania embraces the awkward and rejects expectation, poking fun at Australiana and our culture with a very large stick, and dashes of parodic political humour. If a return season is mounted, grab your ticket fast.
Tickets (there are none): https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/batmania-the-bus-tour/