It features one the iconic characters of stage and screen, making one of the greatest entrances of all time. One of the most popular songs in the history of musicals, with a chorus everyone and their grandmother knows. Since 1973, this kitsch classic about a not so sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania, opening the minds, legs, and chastity belts of America’s sweethearts, has rocked the rock ’n’ roll musical universe. It can, of course, only be Richard O’Brien’s "Rocky Horror Show." On at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. And it is simply too much fun to be missed.
That "Rocky Horror Show" succeeded beyond its wildest imaginings in morally uptight 1973 might seem remarkable, that it still succeeds today might arguably be a miracle. With O’Brien’s spasmodic script referencing cultural ideas immediate to 70s TV - Flash Gordon styled, science fiction B-movies; Happy Days rock 'n' roll themed Americana of the 50s; Hammer Horror and Universal Horror movies - for most people today these amount to little more than cultural fossils speaking to someone else’s nostalgia. Yet Set Designer, Hugh Durrant, and Costumer Designer, Sue Blane, wisely recognise the value in nostalgia and wear their B-movie credentials proudly, with Durrant’s unapologetic film strip motif running throughout the set. In Blane’s skilful hands, Brad, played impressively by understudy Reece Budin in Monday’s performance, and good girl Janet, a simply superb Joanne Clifton, channel a wholesome Harold Lloyd and a girl-next-door Sandra Dee look, adding layers of subtext while remembering times past. A subtext that proves crucial to "Rocky Horror Show’s" continued success. For O’Brien’s script endures beyond the nostalgia for being deliciously subversive, not just overtly, but slyly so, ensuring there’s tensions, thrusts and tugs throughout, and not just under the bedsheets.
Director Christopher Luscombe’s "Rocky Horror Show" plays like a pantomimed Bacchanalian burlesque, unleashing all the verve, sexiness, and low down dirty energy you could possible hope for. Kristian Lavercombe’s lascivious Riff Raff, Laura Harrisons sultry Magenta (as well as the tops and tailing Usherette), and Miracle Chance’s scene stealingly brilliant Columbia, are a sheer joy to watch, never taking their foot off the pedal. The muscle ripped Callum Evans, executing full body flips and making it look easy, gives Rocky both personality and an understated charm. Yet the true master of charm is a delightful Steve Punt as The Narrator, deftly working the audience’s responses and stitching together the makings of a story so bad it's brilliant. Made doubly so by a divine Duncan James as everyone’s favourite mad scientist transvestite, Frank ’n’ Furter. James’ lovable lecherous Frank is not just from outer space; he’s out of this world, commanding the stage every minute.
Forty-six years on and "Rocky Horror Show" is still capable of giving us something to consider. In this instance: have we become a self-conscious nation, happy to scream and applaud but preferring to spectate rather than participate? There are many who will fondly remember the Rocky Horror Picture Show that ran every Friday for over twenty years at the Classic Cinema, Harolds Cross. Where regulars, some dressed as characters, would fling popcorn at the asshole and the slut on screen, racing to the front to Time warp time and time again. They knew the crucial secret: "Rocky Horror Show" offers an amazing experience, but it can offer so much more if you’re willing to interact, to participate rather than spectate. It’s up to you whether you behave like a self-conscious Janet, or a mad, bad sinner from another planet. Best advice: dress up, dress down, call out and join in. It’s going to be fun anyway, but it's much more fun when you play along. Just ask Janet and Brad.
Over the decades "Rocky Horror Show" has been performed by companies and groups all across the globe. The reason is simple: Richard O’Brien’s "Rocky Horror Show" offers a great night out. And never more so than when it's done this well.
Howard Panter for Trafalgar Theatre Productions presents Richard O’Brien’s "Rocky Horror Show" at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until July 6.
For more information, visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.