On Friday evening, we went to see a Rocky Horror Show rendition put together for the 50th Anniversary of the show, and currently touring Europe. I don’t even know how many times we’ve seen this anymore: every time a new group comes to town, we try and grab a ticket. We missed them last year, […]
On Friday evening, we went to see a Rocky Horror Show rendition put together for the 50th Anniversary of the show, and currently touring Europe. I don’t even know how many times we’ve seen this anymore: every time a new group comes to town, we try and grab a ticket. We missed them last year, so we couldn’t miss this one.
What are you blabbering about?
I know that the world is divided into two people (and a half): those who are hardcore fans of the Rocky Horror Show and can carry on the joint performance throughout the whole show, and those who have no fucking idea of whatever the hell you’re going on about (more about the “and a half” later). So, just in case you’re from the third group, here’s a brief overview of the show’s meaning and significance.
The Rocky Horror Show is a theatre musical entirely written by Richard O’Brien, a New Zealand polyhedric artist, back in 1973. A pioneer in challenging the way we approach gender and one of the first to define himself neither male nor female, but possibly transgender or of a third gender, O’Brien whipped together a tribute to science fiction and horror B movies in which the innocent and unsophisticated newly-engaged Brad and Janet are caught in a storm and find themselves seeking shelter at the eccentric house of the weird and eccentric Frank-N-Furter, a creature who defines himself “a sweet transvestite from Transexual Transylvania”. We soon learn that Frank and his plethora of equally eccentric companions are engaged in some sketchy stuff, as Frank brings to life a Frankensteinian creature called Rocky, “with blonde hair and a tan”, whom he clearly wants to employ as a sexual fetish, and a previous lover springs open from the refrigerator where he was kept for pieces.
As the story progresses, both Brad and Janet are seduced by Frank, and Janet eventually hooks up with Rocky, we discover that Frank and his companions are in fact coming from another planet, called Transexual, in the galaxy of Transylvania. After managing to bring them all around to his disinhibited values through a mix of mind control and cross-dressing, Frank is ultimately killed by his servants before they leave for their home world. Brad and Janet are left on earth to deal with the downfall of their encounter.
“Glam rock allowed me to be myself more.”
– Richard O’Brian
Australian director Jim Sharman was the first one wishing to give a go to this weird and daring piece: at the small experimental space called Upstairs in the Royal Court Theatre building in Sloane Square, the show was put on stage with Tim Curry in the original role of sensual, unapologetic and seductive Frank.
The show was turned into a movie two years ago, starring Tim Curry as the lead role and featuring Susan Sarandon as Janet. Meat Loaf guest-starred as Eddie, Frank’s former lover who gets killed on stage.
The impact of both the movie and the show was enormous: if you want to know more, you can watch the 2016 documentary Rocky Horror Saved My Life, involving fans, collectors, and people who were impacted by the production, particularly queer people struggling with their identity.
What’s the third half?
Oh, you haven’t forgotten. I didn’t say “the world is divided into three halves”, though. I said: “the world is divided into two groups and a half.” I didn’t know about the other half until recently, possibly because I’m old and I can’t stand the ticky-tocky place, but apparently there’s a big group of people voicing how The Rocky Horror Show is problematic for transgender representation. The main point raised is, as you can read in this article, that Frank falls into the predatory, murderous misrepresentation of queer people. There’s also a point regarding transgender actors not being cast to play Frank, which is weird because he’s not transgender: he’s cross-dressing. We should know there’s a difference, by now.
Anyway, be mindful that you also have that.
The 50th Anniversary Show
Directed by Christopher Luscombe, this version of the show stars Stephen Webb as Frank and features an elaborate choreography (courtesy of Nathan M Wright) with many original additions throughout the classic numbers.
The scenery is a ribbon of celluloid wrapping around the upper part of the stage. From there, you have vintage movie curtains, starry satin frocks, gothic sceneries and science-fiction labs, solid and fabric stage drops framing characters engulfed in an array of lights that span from the cold, medical whiteness of the lab to the sidereal one of the ending.
Webb as Frank is magnetic, and his charisma is undeniable, though his voice wasn’t always coming through the music to where we were sitting. Riff-Raff, Frank’s Igoresque servant, is played by Kristian Lavercombe, but I’m afraid Stuart Matthew Price has ruined any other Riff Raff’s chances with his stunning 2015 performance. The real surprise was Haley Flaherty‘s Janet: in a role that’s usually reserved for actresses with good exposition and no more than decent singing (Sarandon included), she gave us a powerful performance with some serious display of lungs, especially in her duet with Rocky where she sang swinging, dangling upside down, jumping and dancing.
A word of mention also goes to Darcy Finden‘s Columbia, an actress with great moves and comic flair who’s clearly not singing within her register, and whose voice you’ll appreciate when she’ll give you a taste of her lower notes and warmer colours during the “Floor Show”.
Last but not least, the public is always an active part of the show, interacting with remarks, call-outs, shout-outs and sounds. And boy, did we have some hardcore people in the audience last night (including a spectacular middle-aged guy who was sporting the upper part of a man’s suit with a jacket and white shirt, and was in black thongs with suspenders and veiled stockings on the lower part). While certain actors decided to mostly ignore the audience and carry on with their performance, Webb included, Alex Morgan’s narrator had it the toughest, with constant interactions he carried on with grace, charm, and a not-so-bad dose of Italian.
See you next time!