“Let’s do the time warp again”…
It’s difficult to exactly put one’s finger on why the Rocky Horror Show is such an evergreen, when many of its ‘70s contemporaries now seem quite dated if one doesn’t have nostalgia putting Vaseline on the lens. In a sense, Rocky Horror IS quite dated, at least insofar as it is difficult for those of us from younger generations to entirely comprehend how shocking and transgressive this material originally was (not to mention how few people under 40 probably understand the references to Anne Francis or Leo G. Carroll). So perhaps on that level the show has shifted over time, no longer having its original social impact. Why then its enduring popularity?
I once heard it said that Rocky Horror wasn’t truly so much about sexuality as it was about “dress-ups”. There’s something to this. Although the rapacious bisexuality of Frank-N-Furter is hardly a minor presence in the show and must have caused some stir when it first debuted, it would be a mistake to think that this was ever some kind of serious message about queer sexuality. But even given the rude awakening foisted upon sickly-sweet Brad and Janet (the names of my neighbours’ dogs, incidentally), one really feels that this was never about challenging heterosexuality per se so much as “squares” of any description. After all, Janet, unlike Brad, is never seduced into a homosexual tryst, and yet her sensual awakening is just as profound, if not more so.
Does any of this explain why, in this day and age, the show still has resonance? Perhaps. Regardless of exactly where you are positioned in the much wider spectrum of permissiveness in today’s mainstream, there is something delectable about this simple story of an absurdly conservative couple going down the rabbit hole into an underworld of such theatrically exaggerated hedonism, replete with its B-movie horror and sci-fi tropes strung on an almost fairy-tale structure. Beyond all that it’s simply fun. For all its quaint outrageousness, there’s nothing nasty about Rocky Horror – it’s fundamentally celebratory and affirming, whether you’re a closet Transylvanian or not.
Oh, and let’s not forget the small matter that, musically speaking, it’s pretty damn terrific.
Unless you’re a diehard fan, the songs other than Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite will possibly be somewhat unfamiliar. One of the joys in watching a production of this high a standard is that it reminds you how wonderful just about all the songs actually are. Not only the high-energy numbers such as What Ever Happened to Saturday Night? and Wild and Untamed Thing hit the mark – I was reminded of the surprising beauty of the slower, quieter songs towards the end like I’m Going Home, Super Heroes and Don’t Dream It, Be It when performed as brilliantly as these were.
Which brings us rather neatly to the artists involved. When it was announced that Gale Edwards was going to be directing iOTA as Frank-N-Furter and Paul Capsis as Riff Raff I couldn’t decide if this particular assemblage of fabulous talent should be regarded as a stroke of genius or simply a no-brainer.
A similar dichotomy of opinion applies to iOTA’s performance as Frank. On the one hand, it was surprising to see that his portrayal was such a close echo of Tim Curry’s indelible original that it would be no exaggeration to call it mimicry. iOTA delivers virtually a direct facsimile of Curry’s style right down to the intonation, vowel sounds and other vocal mannerisms.
While normally this would earn him a serious demerit, iOTA gets away with it by dint of the fact that his rendition is, nevertheless, completely amazing. A total diva, he just about literally sets the stage on fire as Frank, his bottomless well of verve, humour and camp sexiness perfectly portraying the character’s seductive, megalomaniacal hubris.
Nevertheless, this exact channeling of Curry seemed odd, given that in most other respects the production seemed at pains to reinvent itself by eschewing any of the exact imagery or costumes of Jim Sharman’s film version that have become iconic to generations of fans, right down to giving most of the characters wigs with pointedly different hair colours to the “classic” incarnation.
Paul Capsis is flawless as the (non-hunchbacked) Riff Raff, and is so perfectly cast that this marriage of character and performer is truly something special. One could not do better for the acerbic “handyman” than the walking freakshow of talent that is Capsis, a fact that was made abundantly apparent when songwriter and original Riff Raff Richard O’Brien got up at the curtain call to sing a encore of Time Warp and was clearly upstaged. It would be interesting to see Capsis try Frank’s fishnets on for size one of these days, as he surely has what it takes.
Also phenomenally good was Sharon Millerchip as Columbia, delivering such a terrifically spunky performance that you dearly wished her role was bigger. John Waters did sterling work as the po-faced Narrator (strangely dressed as a gumshoe), and Kellie Rode really hit her stride when Janet comes bursting out of her shell of repression with Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me.
Although no-one in the cast was weak by any measure, Simon Farrow’s Aussie-accented Rocky, Andrew Bevis’ Brad and Michael Cormick as Eddie and Dr. Scott each seemed a tad “safe” in their performances, although perhaps this is just when compared to the hypercharged excellence of their castmates. Tamsin Carroll seemed similarly less than indelible as Magenta, although she made up for it with her fantastic rendition (as the Usherette) of Science Fiction Double Feature, especially the melancholy reprise that concludes the show.
With lush costumes by Julie Lynch and scenic design by Dale Ferguson, this production looks splendid, as though a wild, macabre costume party held amid the decay of a dilapidated picture hall. Edwards’ direction has brought together just about a perfect revivification of a cult classic, without falling afoul of being either a slavish revival or an unnecessarily radical reinvention.
Whether you’re a devotee or a “virgin” (as they liked to say at the old midnight screenings of the movie), the Rocky Horror Show is a joyous, thrilling and utterly delicious night at the theatre.
The Rocky Horror Show
by Richard O'Brien
Venue: Star Theatre, Star City, Sydney
Dates: currently on sale until March 30
Times: Tues – Thurs @ 8pm; Friday @ 8.30pm; Saturday @ 5pm and 9pm; Sunday @ 3pm and 7pm
Tickets: $69.90 - $89.90
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 795 267 or www.ticketmaster.com.au