From Sex And The City to comic-book caped crusader

Holy cast: Batman Live heroes and villains will battle it out at Sheffield's Motorpoint Arena from August 10, 2011.
Holy cast: Batman Live heroes and villains will battle it out at Sheffield's Motorpoint Arena from August 10, 2011.
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Next month sees one of the planet’s most ambitious shows hit Sheffield – and with it an unlikely writing partnership

Next month sees one of the planet’s most ambitious shows hit Sheffield – and with it an unlikely writing partnership

Batman Live

Batman Live

IT’S a curious journey from Sarah Jessica Parker’s shoe-obsessed columnist to the caped crusader but it was one Allan Heinberg was happy to make.

In fact, you could say the screenwriter behind two of the most popular seasons of Sex And The City was in his element.

A lifelong comic fan, Allan wasn’t entirely sure how Batman Live would manifest itself in an arena spectacular, however.

“Batman had never been performed live and when they told me the idea I was very sceptical,” he admits.

Allan Heinberg Writer

Allan Heinberg Writer

“I didn’t know how it would translate to the stage. One’s fear is it will be a camp panto sort of performance. When they told me the idea was to use the story of how Dick Grayson becomes Robin – a story that begins at the circus – the idea of setting it in a circus in an arena started to make a lot of sense and I began to see the appeal.”

And once convinced of the dedication, both financial and visionary, Allan’s talent for writing emotional stories was employed for the show that visits Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena on August 10-14 for eight performances.

The creative team behind the show includes Nick Grace who previously brought Walking With Dinosaurs from the screen to the stage.

Alongside Batman and trusty counterpart Robin, fans will see butler Alfred and villains such as The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman and The Penguin in settings including Gotham City, Wayne Manor, the Batcave and Arkham Asylum.

Adapted from the DC Comics characters and stories, Batman Live focuses on circus performer Robin’s quest for justice for his crime-victim parents, leading him to follow in the footsteps of his hero – aka protective guardian and fellow orphan, millionaire Bruce Wayne.

“I began talking with the producer and directors about crafting a story and then using the spectacular elements to tell it.

“This could be a lot of kids’ first exposure to the story of Batman and Robin and could be a really exciting and emotional experience as well as jaw-droppingly over the top spectacular.

“I saw the appeal of doing a Cirque du Soleil-style approach to Batman with a very strong narrative. I fell in love with the idea and we’ve all worked together very hard to fulfil that vision.

“In our story they really are at odds with each other from the very beginning, Bruce Wayne and Grayson, but in the end they are brothers in arms, united against common enemies.

“This sort of father/son relationship between Batman and Robin is one of the cornerstones of DC Comics mythology.

“It was profound for me as a kid and being able to re-tell it has been a huge privilege.

“Sex And The City for me was almost 10 years ago. But I’m a huge comic book fan and Batman fan and have been my whole life, so it’s really been a labour of love for me from the beginning.”

When we caught up with Allan, the show was in its first week of rehearsals in arena space.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to see how the script is working and how we can improve it in its actual setting – to dig in and adjust things as we go.

“I’ve never done or seen a show even remotely like this before.

“There are spectacular elements in every scene which are perfectly suited to an arena so it’s marrying two artforms; the traditional dramatic two-act play with the more circus and rock ‘n’ roll aspects of arena theatrical production.

“So we’re actually just exploring and trying to find the perfect balance and marriage between those two presentational forms. I’m blown away by it, seeing all the various elements come together.

“The set designs by Es Devlin are spectacular. She did the Lady Gaga Monster Ball Tour and has surpassed herself on the new Take That tour.

“The core circus performers are incredible and the stage fighting is unlike any I have seen before – it’s exciting.

“As a kid I would have loved this, but I don’t think it would have been possible to tell the story in the proper scale until now with the technology and what’s possible in an arena.

“We really are fulfilling a vision of Gotham City that goes beyond my wildest expectations.

“It is quite an experience. I’m seeing miracles performed on the stage on a daily basis. I saw one of the first fights staged two days ago and it was all I could do not to cry, I was so excited. My eight year old self was jumping up and down.”

Relationships are the key...

THE link between Batman Live and Allan Heinberg’s previous claims to fame seems incongruous.

But the chatty American writer says relationships are the common denominator between Gotham City’s finest, those New York ladies and his controversial project for Marvel, Young Avengers, based on gay crime-fighting heroes Wiccan and Hulking.

With Sex And The City, the cornerstone of the story around Carrie Bradshaw was relationships.

Allan is now applying that brush to a very different story because it is important Batman Live isn’t all fancy sets and action sequences.

“That’s pretty much all I do – I’m a relationship writer at heart.

“No matter what the medium, that’s really all I know how to do and this entire project hinges on the emotional relationship between these two guys.

“It’s been exciting to calibrate that in the context of a show as much about fights as anything else – huge battles.

“We have to choose our emotion moments carefully but they have to be fulfilled or the audience won’t be invested in all the fighting and all that spectacle.”

And, of course, the thousands heading to the arena next month will be hoping for plenty of the latter. They can expect a revolutionary, all-new Batmobile among other things, by legendary car designer Prof Gordon Murray.

The show gets its world premiere in Manchester on July 19 and tours the UK before heading to the USA next August.

With critics mixed over Spiderman’s troubled leap on to the stage in Broadway, the Batman Live crew know they may also have some convincing to do.

“People don’t quite understand what it is; is it a play, a panto? It’s actually like a live action two-hour movie that you’re right in the centre of.

“You’re not emotionally removed from it, it’s all unfolding right in front of you. The more people see it, the more word spreads. I think people will get really excited and hopefully come back and see it again.”