THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW - AT THE ARTS THEATRE
What is it that makes ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ endure? Now in its 46th year, the old raunchy warhorse of silly trans-galactic, trans-gender, Frankensteinian frolics is still pulling in the crowds. It has, of course, reached that time honoured status of ‘the cult’ show which means that it comes ready packaged with a knowing audience prepared to conform to its time-warped protocols. That means dressing up as the many bizarre characters (the show well pre-dates the sing-a-long ‘Sound of Music’ phenomenon) and being ready to ‘talk back’ to the actors on stage with an approved catalogue of rude ‘ad libs’. Surprisingly, only a small percentage of the Arts Theatre audience came dressed up in Rocky Regalia (of which stockings play a key role).
Even attempting to describe the plot of Rocky is far above the pay grade of this reviewer. The show is essentially a crazy mixture of panto, Carry On cheek, B-Movie sci-fi parody and rock n’ roll gig. It certainly defies any attempt at coherence and the very oddity and confusion of the piece is part of its charm.
Steve Punt made a good stab of the role of storyteller and was ready with quick ripostes for the many audience interjections. Though he often seemed a touch embarrassed to be there, Punt’s presence helped give the show a slight semblance of sanity.
However silly the premise, you can’t help but enjoy this production. Joanne Clifton and Reece Budin were suitably innocent as the All-American couple Brad and Janet. Both were in fine voice and though the show gives no space for interpretation, they did what they had to do (mainly sing, dance and look good in underwear).
Stephen Webb made for a slightly unexpected Frank N Furter – the evil genius bisexual with a penchant for feather boas and high heels. His was a more butch and muscular version than you might remember from Tim Curry’s famous film creation made way back in 1975. He was strongly supported by Kristian Lavercombe who made a perfect villain of Riff Raff (though again like the Savoy Operas of old, new interpretations are neither expected nor appreciated by loyal fans of the show). Callum Evans rippled as the golden-skinned muscular monster – the eponymous Rocky Horror. His powerful frame (with voice to match) astonished us all with spectacularly athletic leaps and suggestive somersaults.
Production values were incredibly strong with a superb lighting rig creating a balletic show of dancing beams and dark forebodings. There was, for instance, a moment when the stage was enveloped in a mountain of dry ice – a genuinely spooky and jaw-dropping moment (though one that may have set the theatre’s fire alarms off leading to a rapid evacuation of the building).
Rocky Horror is nothing without its songs and one of the reasons for its lasting success must lie in the catchy 1950s jukebox playlist. They were belted out with maximum energy and though the theatre is not well endowed in the aisles department, the audience had a jolly good go at ‘doing the time warp again’.
Nearing its half century, the show certainly does inhabit its own time warp. It seems as loved now as it was back in 1973 when Richard O’Brien thought up this nonsense. The reasons for its success, to be honest, still rather elude me, but if you go along with willing suspenders of disbelief, you will love it too.