THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW
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 Many of the references in songs and dialogue are of movies and movie stars no longer current in the popular imagination.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.