Music, lyrics and book: Richard O’Brien
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Reviewer: Nathanael Kent
One thing is for sure- Rocky Horror Show is not subtle. Some contrast to the delicately formed pieces of work which now regularly play the Royal Court Upstairs, where Richard O’Brien’s brash and bawdy cult hit premièred forty years ago.
And even now, it seems to have a substantial following. At the opening night in Canterbury, half the stalls seemed to know the script off by heart. One chap near the front would barely let the cast get a word in edgeways, continuously completing their sentences to hilarious effect. But that’s no complaint, for the material itself is surprisingly weak. The audience lifts it.
Essentially it’s a pastiche of horror B-movies: a plain and honest couple’s car breaks down and they need to borrow a phone. They call in on a country house where things, well, aren’t quite as they first seem. It’s a classic premise, here jazzed up with a considerable number of sexual references. However while the first act works because of its tight plot-line and it containing the best songs – Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite, – act two loses its way. O’Brien introduces another genre to pastiche, that of science-fiction, which just muddles things and the piece struggles to sustain itself.
That said, Christopher Luscombe’s revival is impressively cast and yields some strong performances. Oliver Thornton holds no bars in his portrayal of Dr Frank N. Furter, the transsexual scientist. Scantily clad – as are most of the cast – he struts across the stage, cracking his whip, exuding a voluptuous confidence, which, through some skill, he manages to fade into a heartfelt melancholy for his final number. As the phoneless lovers, Ben Forster and Dani Harmer (best known as Tracy Beaker on the BBC) have a fresh innocence about them and clear sense of unease, though the change in the dynamic of their relationship is not charted as well as it could be. There is strong support, too, from Kristian Lavercombe as the servant Riff Raff, Ceris Hine as Columbia and Henry Davis as the titular Rocky.
Best of all, though, is Luscombe himself, playing the Narrator. He is very much an observer, commenting on the goings on in a seemingly serious manner, but beneath that is a quiet mockery. He realises how absurdly surreal everything is, yet still tries to make sense of it all with a deep existential conclusion as if there really is some profound message to be had. He also receives the brunt of the audience’s heckles, and his comebacks to those are very funny indeed, a particular favourite being “the only thing about me that’s crushed is my velvet jacket”.
Luscombe’s production is clearly trying to play up the low-budget movie pastiche through Hugh Darrant’s tacky design, though all too often the stage feels sparse; in fact, it needs to be over the top. Nick Richings’ lighting, with its piercing beams of light, injects a strong element of rock ‘n’ roll, as does Gareth Owen’s deafening sound design though that is, sadly, often to the detriment of lyric audibility.
But this is a show which seems immune to critical notices, much like its younger rock ‘n’ roll musical cousin, Queen’s We Will Rock You. Forty years on the audiences are still lapping it up, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were still doing so in 2053.