18 September 2008

The Rocky Horror Show

The Rocky Horror Show
Dainty Consolidated Entertainment, Ambassador Theatre Group 
18 September 2008

Word on the street was that iOTA is the best Frank N Furter ever. That’s some pretty big, stiletto, patent boots to fill. Last night Melbourne got to see if what all the fuss was about, as The Rocky Horror Show opened in the less-sunny capital.

Let me take you (if I may) back to 1980. The Time Warp was a contender on the Countdown Top Ten, with Ashes to Ashes as its main competition for the number one spot. It was close, but Richard O’Brien beat David Bowie. So that means it’s about 28 years since I discovered and fell in love with The Rocky Horror Show. I’ve seen many Franks since then. (I am too young to have seen Reg Livermore though.) Frank remains an original, intriguing and unforgettable character. When he’s played right, every member of the audience wants him; when he’s played wrong, he’s a boring and offensive parody. I expected a lot from iOTA, not only from hearsay about this performance, but because his original music is rarely off my iPOD play lists.  Did he live up to expectation, comparison and hope?

Oh, yes! iOTA is a goddam super star. It’s hard to describe the difference between a very good performer and a great one, until you see one of the greats. iOTA is one of the great ones. He doesn’t perform Frank – he is Frank.  He owns the room and no matter how amazing the rest of the cast are, they almost pale in comparison.

This cast is indeed fabulous. The ensemble is as tight as a corset and their skill, talent, dedication and enthusiasm are undeniable. But has Gale Edwards directed a great production?

This Rocky plays with the rhythm and melody of the music, the design has been described as a bit too ‘Bratz dolls’, and the characterisations are slightly different from the well-known expectations. I didn’t like all of the choices, but this production offers something new and reveals unexpected and original moments, like the "Don’t Dream It" cock chariot that is simply going to be adored or hated.

However, to get an opinion different from my own, I went with a friend who had never seen a Rocky (not even the film). He didn’t get what the fuss was about and said that he had no idea why the audience where whooping and cheering. After some intense questioning, he admitted that he didn’t understand what was going on.

From the biggest arena to the tiniest theatre, success comes down to understanding the characters and following their journey. The Rocky Horror Show is a surprising and original story about unique characters who all grow, act and change. This production relies heavily on an assumption that the audience knows what’s going on. The rushed first act doesn’t allow time to create or discover an empathy with or understanding of the brilliant characters.

After some thought, my friend also said, “It’s like watching a technically amazing band performing covers. You can’t fault it, but it just doesn’t feel right.”

Despite everything that is terrific about this Rocky Horror Show, in it’s determination to be a Rocky that we haven’t seen, it loses the essence of what made this show so great when it all began.

But iOTA is the best Frank ever. If you love the show, see this Frank.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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