Fluid sexuality was not a term much used (if ever) in the early 1970s; sure you sometimes heard the word “androgynous” used in connection with the advent of glam rock but that was just dressing up – wasn’t it? And then in the middle of the decade The Rocky Horror Show took flight and busted taboos like they were going out of fashion. The musical was the creation of Richard O’Brien an otherwise out of work actor with a passion for horror and science fiction B movies who probably thought he was writing a small scale short lived show which would play briefly and then dwindle away. Little could he have suspected that tens of thousands of performances around the globe (not to mention a hit film) later it would have become an absolute cult. This version is the 40th anniversary show given in London in 2015 although as the show began in 1973 this doesn’t quite work. However, it’s good to see an old friend and the piece is as much fun for the audience as it obviously is for the cast.
For basically it’s one big party with the costumed assembled throng joining in with the songs and the dialogue and inventing a great deal of their own ribald interpolations (actually to the point where you sense that some of the cast are getting annoyed). Taking the central role of Dr Frank’n Furter (forever associated with Tim Curry; how sad that his health has departed from him) is David Bedella channelling some of the diabolic energy he showed as the Devil in Jerry Springer: The Opera. He ramps up the camp to 11, smoulders through his red lipstick, high heels and fishnet stockings and seems to be having an absolute ball as he seduces everyone in sight. This includes teenage sweethearts Brad and Janet (Ben Forster and Haley Flaherty) who start by exuding all-American charm and naivety but soon succumb to the Doctor’s wicked ways as their latent sexuality is brought to the surface. Both performers acquit themselves well and actually have some quite touching moments during their solos. However, we’re mostly there to see the eccentric and bizarre as embodied in Frank’n Furter and some of the other inhabitants of the castle. Kristian Lavercombe is particularly good as butler Riff Raff though he cannot have had an easy job of it with O’Brien (the original) very much in attendance. Also impressive – in a number of ways – is Dominic Andersen – as the “monster” Rocky.
The set is cartoonish – appropriately so and the costumes aim for the very highest level of camp and pretty much succeed. The dialogue and storyline are knowingly risible with no innuendo left unexplored – although some seem pretty tame by today’s more liberal standards. The songs were pastiches of those from another era even back in 1975 so these have held up well. Some of them have become familiar enough for the audience to join in – and they do, taking their cue from the show’s repeated call: “Don’t dream it, be it”. The big song, of course, is The Time Warp. I’d forgotten quite how early it comes in the first half and it is perhaps slightly wasted at that point – if ever there was a song to close the first half then this was it. It doesn’t matter too much because we get two more bursts of it in the grand finale (spiritedly led by O’Brien himself) so we can leave the theatre/our living rooms still humming along. Direction by Christopher Luscombe doesn’t tinker with a winning formula and as this is a celebration of the original that is quite right and proper – besides, the audience would probably have lynched him if he had tried to do anything too different.
This being a party, there’s a number of interesting cameos popping up as part of a relay of narrators and who get whoops of joy as they appear. As well as O’Brien himself, Stephen Fry, Ade Edmonson, Mel Giedroyc, Emma Bunton and Antony Head enter gamely into the spirt of the thing and are systematically abused (in the nicest possible way) by the hyperactive audience. It’s an ideal show for the Halloween period and full of the sort of energetic fizz to make up for the lack of trick and treating this year. One mystery remains, however – what happened to Stephen Fry at the curtain calls? Perhaps he had to go and lie down in a darkened room to recover – didn’t we all?
The Rocky Horror Show is available on You Tube – click here
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