It’s been 40 years since Richard O’Brien’s everyday tale of a Transylvanian transvestite first hit the stage and since then it’s gone on to become one of the biggest cults in musical history, perhaps as notable for its devoted/fanatical audiences as it is for the actual productions themselves. O’Brien himself is a fascinating character. Readers of a certain age will know him best as the sometimes caustic host of The Crystal Maze but before then he’d been a stuntman on Carry On Cowboy (yes, really) and a struggling actor (he appeared in hippie rock musical Hair and as a leper in Jesus Christ Superstar) before penning the frankly (or should that be Frank N Furter-ly) bonkers Rocky Horror Show, a gloriously deranged homage to the 50’s B movies of his childhood. Now identifying himself as transgender he’s currently in the process of retiring to New Zealand and marrying his third wife who’s half his age (O’Brien’s a sprightly looking 70). I do love a happy ending.
Somehow I’d avoided seeing the movie of The Rocky Horror Show until fairly recently and tonight was the first time I’d been anywhere near its theatrical incarnation. Happily a decent number of the audience had continued to embrace the tradition of dressing up as some of the characters, with more suspenders on show than an Anne Summer’s stockroom...and that was just the men. Yes, it’s rare for any theatrical production to encourage anything more than the odd spot of applause or the occasional cry of “Oh no it isn’t / He’s behind you” etc in panto season but Rocky Horror relies on audience participation to such an extent that some of them practically deserved a mention in the programme tonight. Regular Rocky fans will know the script off by heart and will happily chime in with collective shout backs at given points in the show. Others go a little more off piste with some topical...and frankly hilarious...contributions (Jimmy Savile’s currently in vogue). The cast of course are in on this worthy tradition and the ones that can react, popping in their own ad libs, come off best. The role of Narrator’s best suited to all this banter and Philip Franks was particularly sharp this evening with some wonderfully self deprecating jibes and liberal sexual innuendo sprinkled in amongst his scripted dialogue.
The star of the piece of course is Frank N Furter, a gift for any actor, and the current inhabitant of the most famous suspenders in musicals, Oliver Thornton, wrings ever single juicy drop of gloriously camp, sexy, deranged potential out of it. Reviews of this touring cast have favourably compared it to some of the legendary early runs and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing the role more justice. Channelling his inner O’Brien (he’s actually performed with him during another tour of this show) Kristian Lavercombe’s a demented dream as Riff Raff and an unbelievably buff Rhydian’s perfect as Frank-N-Furters’s beefcake wet dream made flesh and...er...‘bone’. Ahem. Ben Forster’s nerdy Brad and Roaxxane Pallett’s virgin turned sexpot Janet are the perfect foils for Thornton’s increasingly lusty sexual advances and Joel Montague provides the rockiest moment of the night (that’s a good thing by the way) as the doomed and rejected Eddie (returning later as the wheelchair bound cross dressing Nazi scientist Dr Scott). If you’ve never seen Rocky Horror this will all sound a little nuts. It’s not. It’s massively nuts. It’s nuttier than a king size portion of rocky mountain oysters and just as pervy, but that’s the point. For a couple of hours you’re free to lose your inhibitions, plunging into a world where the sight of man in his 60s dressed in a PVC thong...and very little else...doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. With some fine vocal performances, a rock sure band and a suitably enthusiastic (and remarkably witty) audience this current version of Rocky’s a hugely enjoyable night of sex, laughs and rock n roll. Time Warp might be its signature tune but 40 years on it’s still one of the most refreshingly different nights in musical theatre.
The Rocky Horror Show’s on at the New Alexandra Theatre until 2nd February (limited ticket availability so get in quick if you want to unleash your inner transsexual transvestite) before hitting the road (dates here).