Rocky Horror Company. Festival Theatre. 19 Apr 2023
My goodness! Has it been 50 years since Richard O’Brien penned every tidbit of his salacious tale of interplanetary transsexualism? I was not surprised to learn that the ultimate source of all this whackiness is that Richard O’Brien is a Kiwi. He was a youthful creature of the double feature in Hamilton, NZ, where his statue now stands erect. Just as O’Brien harkened back to the science fiction of the 50s, Rocky Horror’s theme of sexual frivolity and freedom impregnated with the thrill of the chase and taking chances reflects a time of less cares. Then again, the protagonist turns out the be the dangerous antagonist who must die for his excesses. In the musical, he’s killed with a laser beam, in real life it’s an STD.
The Adelaide audience is on the rollercoaster of an eighteen-year-old production directed by genious Christopher Luscombe. Unlike others, Luscombe says, he likes to freshen up each reprise in a new country by actually attending some rehearsals so he can taylor to the local talent. That explains why in the moving image ads at the Festival Centre, the actor playing the creature Rocky is doing backflips not to be seen on the Australian stage.
Seen by 30 million people in 30 countries in 20 languages, Rocky Horror Show is one of the most successful musicals of all time. And then there’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show of 1975. Both the film and the original stage production were directed by Jim Sharman. Some of you might remember that Sharman was Adelaide Festival Director in 1982 and that he stayed on to form Lighthouse – the halcyon days of South Australian theatre.
The chatty audience succumbed to excitement from the opening bars, antici-pating the great night of rock and irreverence that they got; many in character dress-up, no doubt practiced from drunken midnight showings of the movie. It’s hard to imagine the enthusiasm of Rocky Horror tragics; think of the “deplorables” supporting Trump. The first act songs are the famous of the famous and the audience was enthralled with the glam rock riffs. The Time Warp is orgasmic. Director Luscombe notes the phenomena of audience interjection, famously commonplace in Shakespeare’s day but not the done thing presently. Impressively, most of it is pretty good and the cast is asked to go with the flow. Eg: Janet says, “I don’t like a man with too many muscles,” and a smartass yells out, “Just one big muscle!”
David Bedella playing Frank N Furter has won as many Laurence Olivier awards as there are Three Stooges. His tremendous baritone booms and Furter is at once playfully teasing and disturbed. Bedella was unconvincing though on some dialogue exchanges. Henry Rollo has a tremendously powerful voice and his Riff Raff shakes the rafters. Deirdre Khoo’s and Ethan Jones’s Janet and Brad are delightfully innocent yet bold as they undergo a sexual awakening. Stellar Perry and Darcey Eagle made Magenta and Columbia an exciting coupling with their vocal and physical virtuosity. Loredo Malcolm conveys all the naivety of the newborn yet contrapoints with a fabulous body, nimble movements and melody. Ellis Dolan needs all of Eddie’s brain to give this role even more umph. TV star Myf Warhurst is a definite no-no as Narrator. Her Narrator’s Australian ordinariness and reading of the fable jarred with the ambient flamboyance; she comes across more square than even Janet. Warhurst disarms her interjectioners with grace and humour but like a cautious grade school teacher.
You definitely get bang for your buck with the production values. Nick Richings’ colourful laser lights are hard at work and Sue Blane’s cossies admirably fall somewhere between punk trash and Victoria’s Secrets. Hugh Durrant’s set was suitably cartoony and sci-fi fake naff. He cleverly incorporated a representational swirl of 35 mm film in homage to the Rocky Horror movie. Jack Earle’s band blasts away and drives the intensity and excitement.
The audience couldn’t wait to rise to their feet with applause and the cast responded with several encores including The Time Warp which had everyone dancing as the golden ticker tape flied. With each viewing, the shock and awe of the visual audacity gives way to the sheer brilliance of O’Brien’s multi-themed narrative mixed with juvenile hi-jix. Rocky Horror Show is a masterpiece of spoofy rock music extravagance. Bravo!
When: 13 to 30 Apr
Where: Adelaide Festival Theatre