Tag Archives: Richard O’Brien

Not dreaming but being


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 13th June, 2016


Richard O’Brien’s cult camp classic is doing the rounds again in this exuberant production.  I’ve been a devotee for decades and I’m sure I would have enjoyed the show on its own merits were it not for the actions of one of America’s inexhaustible supply of gun-toting shitheads.  On Saturday night an inexcusable cunt murdered innocent people in a Florida gay bar, just because they were there.  My thoughts have been coloured by this act of hate-filled cowardice ever since.  And so it was heartening to approach the theatre and see so many people in costume.  Men in drag – straight men, many of them – getting into the spirit of the show, wobbling on high heels, squeezed into unfamiliar basques, and sweating under polyester wigs.  I felt decidedly underdressed by comparison.

It struck me, more than ever, how the show is a celebration.  Uptight straight couple Brad and Janet are changed forever by their encounter with the flamboyant, predatory Frank N Furter.  Their eyes (and their legs) are opened to other possibilities.  And it got me thinking what would our culture be like if LGBT people did not contribute?  Dull, flat, white bread – it doesn’t bear thinking about.

As saccharin sweet Janet, Diana Vickers is wonderful, showing her character’s sexual awakening in her voice as much as her acting.  Richard Meek is a sturdy, stand-up Brad, testing the boundaries of his masculinity.

Fellow Dudley boy Norman Pace excels as the Narrator, managing the audience interjections assertively but always with a sense of fun, and it is an absolute pleasure to see the remarkable Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff again – a masterful butler, if you can have such a thing.  Kay Murphy’s Magenta is a glamorous vamp, while Sophie Linder-Lee’s Columbia is perky and brittle – her drug-induced freak-out is hilarious.  Good value is S-Club 7’s Paul Cattermole appearing in two roles, as experiment-gone-wrong Eddie and as Nazi-leaning, wheelchair-bound Dr Scott.  Liam Tamne gives a magnificent star turn as Frank N Furter, adding a touch of Southern drawl and a whole lot of glamour.  Tamne is at his heart-breaking best in the closing numbers, with some soulful torch-song singing.  But tonight, for me, scene and heart were stolen by Dominic Andersen as Rocky Horror himself.  A perfect physical specimen in leopard-print pants, Andersen can sing, move and act.  It was love at first sight.

Director Christopher Luscombe somehow keeps things fresh while giving us everything we expect.  Seasoned audience members know exactly what to shout out and when – you don’t heckle, you participate.  It’s more of a litany than a pantomime.

The show is tons of fun but I am always struck by the downbeat denouement.  But tonight, especially, when Frank is gunned down for going ‘too far’, it is extra powerful.  That he is shot by someone inhuman says it all.

The show concludes with one of the bleakest assessments of our sorry species I have ever heard.  And crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race, lost in time and lost in space and meaning.

The show has never been more relevant and necessary.

And then, we’re all on our feet and dancing the time-warp; we’re clapping and cheering and enjoying the moment, because that’s how life should be lived.

rocky horror

Rocky relationship: Dominic Andersen marvels at Liam Tamne’s Frank-N-Furter


Iamb what Iamb


mac, Birmingham, Friday 29th January, 2016


I get invited to lots of shows – and I’m grateful – and I was happy to receive an invitation from this show’s writer, Richard O’Brien (not that one) to come along and review his play, written entirely in verse. He is keen to revive this approach to theatre – after all, even old Shakespeare wasn’t averse to the odd rhyming couplet (and the rest!). Having seen the remarkable King Charles III last year, the futuristic history play in which the blank verse and poetic imagery elevates the royal characters from mere Hello magazine content to something more regal, I was keen to see how iambic pentameter would serve a different world – I say ‘serve’ deliberately, because form ought to be secondary to content.

In this case, the content involves an open day at a local school, in which local businessmen and a technology company are deeply, financially invested. A mixed bunch of parents and their teenage children arrive and concerns are aired – not least by jaded leftie Kerry (Katie Beth Stubbs), who decries the move away from local authority control. The play is a biting satire of the  educational system and the impotence of the Left to combat this, or any other, stripping away of ‘the public good’ in favour of private enterprise. The characters set out their stalls pretty clearly, stating their views, but this is more than agitprop and caricature.

Overseeing and tampering with events is the ghost of Anthony Crosland, played with relish by Matthew Bretton. It seems ghosts and verse drama are inextricably linked!   The strong cast includes Gareth Bernard as the crass cowboy builder who cut corners in the construction of the school, Rebecca Martin as his gaudy wife, and Louis Osborne as their son Struan. The playing is broader than naturalism, to fit the comic styling as well as the sometimes-heightened language; it’s just that the Hexagon space at mac is a very intimate space, indeed. Director Rebecca Martin puts us in the action and keeps that action fast-paced. There are many hilarious moments, born of the witty script, the actors’ delivery, and the directors’ staging – the low-tech supernatural interferences are a scream, and the ‘respawning’ (characters getting ‘shot’ and getting up again) in the video-game scenes are nicely done.

Chauncey Alan’s Torben, the head, is all PR patter and feel-good spiel, a salesman more than an educator, evangelising about the school’s top-of-the-range facilities. When he gets his comeuppance, form and content are perfectly married; his florid speech is undermined by the projecting of a sex tape (involving him and journalist Jenny in some Keystone Kops-type acts of congress).

O’Brien’s writing is excellent. He gets across a lot of points and for the most part, the blank verse is nestled within the dialogue. Only in the longer speeches does it become more obvious, but we are reminded this is a verse play when Crosland’s ghost speaks in doggerel, and when star pupil ‘Starfish’ (Heidi McElrath) goes off on one – reminding me of the witches’ spell in Macbeth.

Funny, trenchant and relevant, Free For All is a delight, simply but effectively staged. Haunted House theatre company is justified in its pursuit of reviving verse plays for the stage. And, it turns out, I’m not a-verse to it, either. Heh.

 free for all

Doctored Heckles and Mistimed Jibes


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 28th January, 2013


Forty years old, Richard O’Brien’s camp cult favourite is touring in a new production directed by Christopher Luscombe.  Fans and devotees need not fear: all the elements are intact; the show has merely been tweaked and titivated to keep it fresh.

Many in the audience see it as an excuse to dress up and unleash their inner Frank N Furter.  Many a time and oft have I donned my Riff Raff outfit and I am almost regretting I didn’t make the effort on this occasion.  Dressing up is not vital to enjoying the show but it does add an extra frisson of fun, making the performance more of an event.

Sadly, in this age of health and safety, a lot of the traditional audience participation is now verboten.  Gone are the days of water pistols, packets of chips, decks of cards and even slices of toast.  What remains are the responses, a litany of abuse, whenever certain characters are named (Brad – “Asshole!”, Janet – “Slut!”, Dr Scott – “Sieg Heil!”) and heckling the cast with lines, some of them rehearsed and a few of them extemporised.  You can have too much of this, with the same loud-mouthed windbags running the same jokes into the ground.  For example, the first reference to Jimmy Savile was oblique and well-judged.  The second was crass and unfunny.  It is a skilful heckler who knows when to hold his tongue and when the moment for jibes has passed.

But enough of the audience.

Squeaky clean young Americans Brad (Ben “Jesus” Forster) and Janet (Roxanna “Emmerdale” Pallett) are travelling home from a friend’s wedding when the breakdown of their car causes them to take refuge from a storm in a nearby gothic castle.  This is the premise of many an old horror film – it has to be remembered the show is a satire of 1950s B movies.  Many of the references in songs and dialogue are of movies and movie stars no longer current in the popular imagination.  The castle is brimful with weirdos, and is the home of mad scientist Frank N Furter, who turns out to be a sweet (and gorgeous) transvestite, played with relish, poise and glamour by Oliver Thornton, who brings something of Jane Russell to his portrayal, if I might refer to an olde-time movie goddess.  Easily the best set of gams on display. He allows Brad and Janet to witness the culmination of his latest experiment, the creation of the perfect man.  He ends up with Rocky Horror, played here by Britain’s Got Factor’s Rhydian who has transformed himself into something of a beefcake.  Imagine Bob Downe crossed with Stretch Armstrong.

Presiding over the action is the Narrator, usually a thankless task, but here Philip Franks is perfect as the voice of authority, allowing the audience their fun and deflecting heckles and personal insults with wit and aplomb.  His is perhaps the most subtle performance and yet thoroughly in tune with the spirit of the piece.  Both Forster and Pallett are excellent as the white bread kids on a journey of sexual awakening, and Thornton’s Frank N Furter will stick in my memory for a long time.

Abigail Jaye (Magenta) and Ceris Hine (Columbia) are in fine form as Frank N Furter’s servants but for me the cream of this crop was Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff.  His rock star voice soared above everyone else’s and while he evoked Richard O’Brien in sound and appearance, he was still able to make the part his own.

The show itself reminded me of its delights: the score is tuneful, the dialogue deliberately cheesy, and the message goes beyond the spoofing of genre movies of a bygone era.  That message is to give yourself over to absolute pleasure.  But only for the moment.  It is a celebration of diversity and self-expression, although the feather boas and suspenders have become clichés.

The downbeat resolution is always sobering, I find – until the cast return for a curtain call and a couple of reprises to get us all on our feet and time-warping.  An exhilarating evening that demonstrates that entertainment is best left to the professionals and not the loudmouths who don’t know when enough is enough.