When it comes to cult theatre, the grand daddy of them all refuses to go away. Fully some 46 years after it made its debut at a small upstairs space at the Royal Court Theatre in London, Richard O’Brien’s homage to the B movies of the 1950s is seemingly unstoppable. The Rocky Horror Show is back on tour in the UK and packing theatres throughout the land.
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know the story of Brad Majors and his fiancée Janet Weisz, whose car breaks down on a stormy night and they seek help from a nearby castle? And what wonders they find within.
Aliens, former Nazis, transvestites and a creature of the night. Rocky Horror has now become the ultimate party night for thousands of people. The Blackpool of the theatre world, just as brash and gaudy lacking any real taste.
Its’ a shame really, because its a clever pastiche with some stonking rock tunes which are the core of its popularity. There is a real dark, and subversive centre at the heart of the show and I would love to see that being exploited more, maybe in the future Ridley Scott’s take on it. The possibilities are endless.
But here in 2019, the theatre is literally packed with audience members dressed as their favourite character. Beefy men clop about in fishnets and stilettos often coming over more like Lesley the tranny receptionist from TV’s Benidorm than the gender bending siren from Transexual, Transylvania. Director Christopher Luscombe knows his audience, and directs the pace in pantomime style. Any attempts at subtly with the text forlorn against the tide of ‘audience participation’ that inevitably comes with Rocky.
I first saw the show in 1983 before the audience became an integral part of the show, and I think it was a better experience for it. No such luck this time, although Narrator Steve Punt did a mighty fine job treading the line between being heckled and controlling the pace of the narration. He would wander off script acknowledging the audiences mastery of the retort, before bringing proceedings firmly under control again. A masterclass of comedic control.
The problem with anyone appearing in Rocky Horror, is that the 1975 movie has indelibly stamped the performances of the celluloid cast on the retina, ear and hearts of whoever sees it. There is a demand to re-create the characters in the same mould as those amazing originals. Thereby inevitably we judge the performances on how closely they can pull off recreations of Tim Curry, Meatloaf, Patricia Quinn et al.
In this way, it is perhaps a tribute show in all but name. However, the cast give it all a brave stab. Joanne Clifton and James Darch bring Brad and Janet’s goofiness to life, Darch particularly displaying a fine singing voice in his solo “Once In A While” (you know, the song that ISN’T in the movie).
Kristian Lavercombe is perhaps more at home delivering his fine rock tenor than the overt creepiness of Riff Raff. Likewise Ross Chisari delivers the Meatloaf rocker “Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul)” with verve and energy but fails to convince later in the show as science tutor, and former Nazi, Dr. Everett Scott. Laura Harrison as the cinema Usherette wows us in a fine opener with perhaps the best song in the show “Science Fiction Double Feature” but when she and Miracle Chance (yes that’s her name) become acolytes Magenta and Columbia they are somewhat sidelined.
The star turn for this tour is former Blue singer Duncan James as the outrageous scientist Dr. Frank N Furter. He certainly has presence, and delivers a better than expected take on the hedonistic alien.
The audience love him, as they love anyone filling Tim Curry’s high heels, and he even manages a bit of pathos during his big ballad “I’m Going Home”. Rocky Horror himself, Callum Evans, looks fantastic with his tanned ripped body and acquits himself well in what is perhaps the most one dimensional role in the entire piece.
Hugh Durrant’s set is functional, and Sue Blane recreates her costumes from the movie with panache. The real star of the technicals is Nick Richings lighting. Perhaps the most striking thing about the look of the show, whether mood setting or producing effects for laser guns and the ‘sonic transducer’ that Frank uses to restrain his victims, it is undeniably impressive.
And let us not forget the gentleman of the band high above the stage, under the musical directorship of George Carter. They rip through O’Brien’s brilliant score with gusto, reminding us of the sole reason that we remember the show beyond the theatre. Those glorious songs.
All in all it has been for me a welcome stroll down memory lane, having discovered the show in the early 1980s. Many productions and cast changes later, it is still the fun night out it always was. Delivering outrage, rock and roll and profits to theatres throughout the land. Long may it continue… but please at some point lets have a re-invention putting the horror in equal measure to glam rock at the forefront.
Review by Robert Cope
Tour details can be found at https://www.rockyhorror.co.uk/tour-dates
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