You can see the The Rocky Horror Show over and over again. It is addictive. There is so much to it. It works on so many different levels, and covers so many different subjects: Science fiction, B movies, sexual freedom, promiscuity, and rock ‘n’ roll. It is funny, naughty and – at times- moving. It is not just a cult. It is a philosophy. “Don’t Dream It, Be It” . They say.
Now celebrating its fortieth year (first premiered in June 1973) it was written by out-of-work Richard O’Brien to keep himself busy. The show has been given a new coat of paint and was trundled out in time for Christmas in Brighton. An apt location (if ever there was one) and a fitting time of the year. It is has always been a dressing-up box panto for adults.
Directed by Christopher Luscombe, the new Frank N Furter is played by Oliver Thornton, who was winner of Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award for “Best Supporting Actor in a Musical” in 2010 playing Adam (Felicia) in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. So this part suits him from the top of his scarlet fascinator, down to the tips of his polished toes.
The Narrator in Brighton was Philip Franks – probably best known as “Charley” to “Darling Buds” fans, or more recently as Sgt. Raymond Craddock from Heartbeat. The The X Factor runner up Rhydian plays Rocky.
The majestic Theatre Royal in Brighton was dressed up to the nines for the starry opening night. Cleverly designed red tinsel boas lined the windows and doors. Inside the venue, the place looked like a tart’s boudoir. So it was perfect for this show. The Brighton crowd bustled in, most were dressed up to have some fun. “No water, lighters, cards, water pistols ….” Said the stern lady on the door as we went through to take our seats. She pointed out a long list of rules that were printed onto the door. We could not see all the rules of the house, but the list probably included ‘No smiling’ and ‘Do not sing’. But there you are, that’s ‘Health and Safety’ Britain for you.
But once the show got under-way, the “regular Rocky fans” (they tend to describe everyone else as mere ‘Mortals’) found cunning ways to beat the system. So, for example, when we got to the line about seeing a light “Over at the Frankenstein Place” … the Rocky fans held up a wide range of party lights, glo-sticks and torches.
The ‘house band’ was loud and expressive. They delivered a real punch. Full credit must go to Gareth Owen for Sound Design and Tony Castro: Musical Supervisor. And some of the cast played their roles superbly well. Leggy Abigail Jaye was excellent as The Usherette/Magenta. And in this new production, The Usherette pushes back the tatty curtain, to literally open up the show. This was a nice touch.
The new Brad (Ben Forster) and Janet (Roxanne Pallett) don’t now start their story outside the church at the Hapshatt wedding. The show starts with the newly engaged couple already travelling in the car.
The old castle has been carefully created (Set Designer Hugh Durrant) and seemed to be a bit more believable than the 2009-10 production. But there were some minor irritations. The television monitor scene in Act 2 was poorly executed. And it took a lot of imagination (and knowledge of the show) to get an idea of what was happening. And there was too much ‘smoke’ when Riff Raff and Magenta emerge wearing space-suits. And even more smoke was used when the castle went off into space. We hope that these problems will be ironed out in the coming weeks.
The big question is – was Oliver Thornton passable as Frank? Well, to be fair, he has some pretty big platform shoes to fill. David Bedella (as the most recent incarnation in the UK) was considered by many fans as one of the best Frank N Furters in the Rocky story. It is going to be a while before Oliver Thornton is able to make the role his own. At times, during the Brighton performance, his accent seemed shaky. Was it Welsh? Was it starchy English? Or was it Transylvanian? But maybe that was all part of the act. But all-in-all, Thornton struck an imposing figure. Sultry, masculine and threatening. It will be nice to see him develop the role.
Far weaker, though, in our opinion, was Rhydian (playing Rocky until March 2013.) Not only was he physically weaker (there were no gymnastics during “The Sword of Damocles” – and he was unable to pick up Frank in the ‘dying’ moments ) but he was also vocally weaker . He seemed to lack stage presence * [Update below]
In conclusion, I think that we felt just a bit of disappointment that Christopher Luscombe did not try something entirely fresh and innovative for this special 40th anniversary production. Without spoiling the essence of the show, some risks could have been taken. For example, why does Frank always have to be some kind of incarnation of Tim Curry? Why not try a different approach – for example a sleazy Essex-boy type. ( Russell Brand’s name was mentioned recently in connection with a new movie version… not that I am recommending him for the role -heaven forbid – but you get the idea.) Or why not try a sexy urban-style player – based on someone like Idris Elba’s character “Stringer” Bell from the HBO drama series ‘The Wire’ ?
But perhaps that’s the beauty and the essence of the show. Like all good pantomimes, we all know who we have to hiss at. And root for. The heroes and villains are crudely drawn. But they are easy to identify.
And, in Brighton, when Richard O’Brien came on stage for a final “Time Warp” – and the audience burst into irresistible applause – we all knew that this was a very special moment. “For a show that was not expected to last more than a few weeks … we did pretty well,” said Richard. “Don’t you think?” The crowd roared their approval.
Here is to another forty years!
– © Neil_Mach December 2012 –
There are a whole bunch of new UK Tour Dates. So check the website http://www.rockyhorror.co.uk/ for details and book your tickets as soon as you can !
From : Andrew
He’d sprained his wrist, didn’t you notice the strapping? It’s not condusive to picking up another human being or doing gymnastics!. Vocally weak? You didn’t see the injury so I’m not convinced you could hear very well either, Rhydian has a very powerful voice.
Sorry this had to be said- Are you not aware that all directors who attempt RHPS have to run their ideas by R’Ob first? The possibility is- R’Ob likes his production how it is. And so do all us fans- or we wouldn’t keep returning.