Review Rocky Horror Show
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The Rocky Horror Show
Helena Gomm does the Time Warp again!
Black leather corsets, suspenders, posing pouches, glittering shorts, mad wigs, sequinned jackets and hats, fishnets and high heels – and that’s just the audience, and the male members (no pun intended) at that, some of them old enough to have seen the original 1973 show. ‘We’ve had a few of them in here, but by Saturday … well, you should see them by then!’ said the bloke in the newsagent’s, as a man in a fright wig and a hospital gown with pink rubber gloves passed by the window, and he handed over our change. Yes, The Rocky Horror Show is back in town.
Up until this week, I had only seen the 1975 film version (The Rocky Horror Picture Show). It was at a midnight showing in a small cinema in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I think it is no exaggeration to say that it altered the course of my life.
The unofficial audience ‘script’ was already well established, with its comments and catcalls and the throwing of rice, toast and what have you at the screen, and at least 80 percent of the audience were in costume. ‘No neck!’ we screamed as one, whenever the Criminologist appeared, and all the rest of it. At the Mayflower Theatre, when Laura Harrison as the Usherette launched into ‘Science Fiction, Double Feature’, I was right back there.
Why is The Rocky Horror Show, whether the stage or film version, such a rite of passage? Maybe because if you see the show as a teenager or in your early twenties, it invites you to choose between the world you have grown up in, the life that your parents perhaps wanted for you, and the wider world, with its greater breadth of experience, its tolerance of the different – and not just tolerance, but a positive embracing of the weird and wonderful extremities of the human condition.
And in many ways, it all comes down to underwear. Brad and Janet, the squeaky-clean, newly-engaged college sweethearts whose car breaks down on the road and who inadvisably seek help in Dr Frank N Furter’s castle, are clad in ‘tighty-whitey’ Y-fronts and a plain white bra and knickers respectively. They are unexciting, nerdy but respectable, destined for boring suburban married life in small-town America.
Set against them Frank, the ‘sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania’, in his laced–up black leather corset, fishnet stockings and high heels and his sexily but scantily–clad minions. For me, there was no contest.
It is great to see that the cult classic has lost none of its appeal and a new generation of fans is embracing the costuming, the audience participation and the whole shebang. Although sexuality on stage is nothing new these days, and nowhere near as shocking as it was when the show first came out, the enthusiasm of young theatregoers speaks of a continued acceptance and celebration of difference that the show itself may even have helped to engender in our society.
On the night I went, the audience were mainly young and hugely enthusiastic, but there were older people there too – some clearly lifelong fans, some seeing it for the first time. The elderly couple sitting on my right had actually been given their tickets by their son. They didn’t know quite what to expect, but they appeared to love every minute of it, and were out of their seats at the end and doing the Time Warp with everyone else.
In this production, Dom Joly takes the role of the narrator and he handles it well, dealing with the shouts of the audience in an unflustered and good-natured way. The same is true of the rest of the cast: it can’t be easy to deliver the line ‘Yes, I am’, knowing full well that the audience are going to bellow ‘Are you a slut, Janet?’ just before you do so.
They allow time for the predicted shouts from the audience without stopping the action or giving the impression that they are expecting and waiting for them. And this is one of those shows where the relationship between audience and players is absolutely key: not to allow the audience to have their say would be unthinkable.
Duncan James makes an excellent Frank, and Joanne Clifton brings both power and sweetness to the role of Janet. Callum Evans as Rocky pulls off a series of standing somersaults and back flips with impressive ease, and Ben Adams makes a suitably twitchy and nerdy Brad. The ending of the story is weird and somewhat anticlimactic, but then it always was, and what the audience really wants – and gets – is a chance to do the Time Warp again.