09 May 2014

Review: Rocky Horror Show 2014

Rocky Horror Show
Ambassador Theatre Group & John Frost
26 April 2014
Comedy Theatre
to 13 June 2014

Having toured the UK for a year to celebrate Rocky's 40th birthday, the Australian-cast version have snapped on their fishnets in Melbourne.

It was great when it all began. So I've been told.

In the 1970s, the Rocky Horror Show was this raw subversive show that shocked mainstream theatre and found an unexpected and long-running connection with an audience who were just as raw and wild. It wasn't long after opening in London and the US, that this weird rock and roll show about a transvestite alien ran at midnight in an old cinema in a dodgy part of Glebe in Sydney. It was rough and unpredictable and, just by going, you declared that you were part of the generation ready to tell stuffy old Australia to get real and loosen up.

I know it's impossible to see that Rocky, or even one that's anything like it, but it doesn't stop me wanting to.

The current production is so far from those first ones that it's hard to even see them as the same work.

When Erika Heynatz's Usherette opens with a simply sung "Science Fiction" in front of a ripped curtain, the tone hints that it's going to be something that goes back to the roots of the show.

But it doesn't. No fishnets have holes, no makeup runs, the blood is offstage and everything is shiny sparkly and glittery clean. It's just so nice! And with an audience of lovely people who are able to buy expensive tickets and wear their best frocks and buy Rocky-branded phone covers and nail polish from the merchandise stand, it's as subversive as the big red hands in the Coles ads.

Which isn't to say it isn't good. And as a slick commercial professional production of Rocky Horror Show, it may be as good as it's ever going to be.

The design pays loving homage to the past productions (and the film) but, with the likes of a taxidermied dodo and its own curtain-call costumes, it has an originality that lets it stand alone. The cast are all ridiculously beautiful, there's no hint of a missed step or note, and each obviously love being in this show and bring something new to their so-well-known characters. Throw in a live band and a lighting design that's reminds us that it's a rock show and it's hard to fault.

And maybe that's the problem. The show's played like everyone knows exactly what's going to happen. There are no surprises. Maybe there are no surprises left? It finds its own moments (thanks Vaso), but it's such a reflection and celebration of 41 years of Rocky that it's never given the chance to be or find itself.

Which also leaves us watching the super-lovely Christie and Tim instead of Brad and Janet. And Erika, Kristian, Tony, Ashlea, Brendan and Nichols are all bloody marvellous, but none find a new truth or bring a reality to their characters that lets us care when things go bad for them.

But every Rocky is remembered for its Frank N Furter.

Since 1992, Craig McLachlan has been Frank a few times in Australia and the UK. He's hilarious and sexy and adorable, and milks every laugh he can – even before they come – then milks some more. I can't decide if his over-playing to the audience is endearing or needs to be stopped. At first it felt out of place, but he wins everyone over with his repetition and constant wink to the audience that it's all a big joke.

It may be unfair to compare Craig's Frank to Reg Livermore's 1974 Frank, especially being based on hearsay, photos and the Australian-cast recording, but Reg said this:

"My advice to any prospective Frank is this: if you're remotely concerned about whether the audience thinks you're really like that, if you care at all what an audience thinks about you personally, you'd be well advised to take off the corset and head home. Frank is like that; he's worse, and must be played that way. Frank is the fearless embodiment of all that's unspeakable, let alone the unnatural; his antics encourage many laughs, but first and foremost he presents real and terrible threat. Never forget, the audience must be wary of him, they should never take their eyes off him, and if they do it's at their peril."

Now that's a Frank and a Rocky Horror Show I'd love to see.

This was on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Jeff Busby.

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