Music, Book, Lyrics: Richard O’Brien
Director: Christopher Luscombe
The Rocky Horror Show is a show unlike any other. Juke box musicals inspire audiences to sing along with the Greatest Hits, but The Rocky Horror Show has developed a whole script and choreography for its audience. At the Richmond Theatre, where the median age of the audience is in the mid-50s, the Time Warp is performed by the entire theatre, which is a sight to see. There are props, there are predetermined ad libs, there are strict instructions banning ‘rice, water pistols, confetti, and toast’, because the Richmond Theatre is wise to the ways of Rocky Horror fans.
When the film of a 50-year old theatre piece becomes a cult object, it pretty much defines performances, so almost everyone on stage does an impression of their character from the movie. Kristian Lavercombe, who has been Riff-Raff more than 1,800 times, does a note-perfect Richard O’Brien, which is sort of impressive. The performance least indebted to the film is Ore Oduba’s Brad. The notably fleet-footed Mr Oduba, winner of series 14, Strictly Come Dancing, plays Brad as a clutz, which is also quite impressive.
The performances, however, are really all set-ups for audience moments. When the chorus remarks that there’s a light, over at the Frankenstein place, torches emerge all over the auditorium and flicker in concert. When Stephen Webb’s Frank N. Furter attempts to seduce anyone, he receives a lot of very explicit advice. Philip Franks, as The Narrator, has licence to respond, so the Narrator’s scenes become dialogues with the audience.
There are problems if the show is treated as a sit-down performance. For starters, sitting down to watch the cast dance the Time Warp is not physically possible for the sea of jiving bodies in the auditorium. The acting is constrained by being based on impressions of the actors on film, but also by having to leave space for audience call-backs. And it’s a show that has been on the road for a long, long time. Christopher Luscombe directed a version of this touring show 15 years ago, and some company or other has been taking it round the provinces ever since. It’s hard to keep a show fresh and lively for 15 years.
There are poignant songs at the climax of the piece, and they are all thrown away in favour of a reprise of the Time Warp, and Brad and Janet’s transformation is an excuse for audience ribaldry, not an opportunity for either actor to portray a character arc. If subtlety and spectacle are requirements, staying home and watching the movie is probably the best course of action. If wearing fish-nets and a sparkly hat, and making lewd suggestions to actors in their underwear, is someone’s idea of a fun night out, this show hits those buttons with a resounding smack. Even if Richmond Theatre forbids toast.
Runs until 28 May 2022