30
Jan
18

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show

 

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show

Gordon Frost Organisation, GWB Entertainment and Howard Panter Ltd

QPAC Concert Hall

January 19 – February 11 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Don’t dream it, be it.

 

The message has never been clearer: you can be whatever you want to be. But somewhere along the way, has Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show taken this lesson a little too literally, and lost some sense of self?

 

It’s still a ridiculously fun, kitsch show (a ridiculous, fun, kitsch show) – it’s even retained a little bit of its naughtiness (the bed scene is still hilarious, although, thank Adam, not quite as lewd) – but it seems it’s not only the size of the production that’s been scaled back. With Craig McLachlan’s departure from this slick little mini-production from London and even less time allowed than in 2014 for the double entendres and sight gags to sink in, it’s no longer a wild and untamed thing. Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show is practically PG.

 

 

In London, in 1973 the very first Rocky Horror Show genuinely shocked audiences, and with the 1975 release of the film (a dismal failure at first, and let’s not even speak of the appalling remake from 2015), based on the stage production by Richard O’Brien, this strange encounter of virgins and phantoms and aliens quickly became a cult classic. The show has played all over the world non-stop for 45 years, and in case you were unaware, an audience participation ‘script’ informs both screenings and live performances, although the Brisbane Cards 4 Sorrow crowd (if that’s who they were. Incidentally, their next floorshow is in March; check it out here) didn’t get much of a look in this time, the couple of determined callouts deflected without hesitation by Narrator, Cameron Daddo, superbly and very suavely his natural self in this coveted role). Perhaps they felt, after the initial bold outburst, that QPAC’s Concert Hall was not the place for it…

 

Tim Curry remembers the moment he realized that his performance as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show,” the London stage precursor to the 1975 cult film, was no longer his alone.

 

David Bowie and his wife at the time, Angela, were in the audience that night in 1973. Onstage, Frank, the hypersexual alien mad scientist, was being held at ray-gunpoint by his former servants, Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien) and Magenta (Patricia Quinn). They were about to shoot when Ms. Bowie shouted, ‘‘No, don’t do it!”

 

Indeed, the Concert Hall feels like the least likely space in which to experience Rocky Horror, but Mamma Mia! continues to claim the Lyric until February 4. According to one of the venue’s producers, we’ll likely see more of this use of the Concert Hall, which has historically been home to artists and acts of a slightly different ilk. Perhaps the precedent was set by Harvest Rain, with their full-scale musicals in this space before a move across the road, or had it been set already? It’s truly magnificent to have so much coming to Brisbane that QPAC (booked ahead for years you understand), must utilise every space, but by the same token, it’s a firm reminder that we are in desperate need of another performing arts venue in Brisbane that doesn’t also serve as a convention centre or conference location.

 

In exciting news for independent artists, presenters and producers seeking a brand new and intimate performance space, XS Entertainment is issuing an invitation to come play with us on the Sunshine Coast. 

Email xanthe@xsentertainment.com.au for available dates and details. 

 

It could be said that this version of Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show continues to suffer from its smaller scale, although probably not if you’ve never seen it live on stage before…

 

 

A couple of Rocky Horror virgins joined me on opening night, and despite some confusion surrounding the story and some horror/mock horror moments – cold blooded murder and beneath-the-bed-sheet sight gags – they enjoyed the show and the performances from a cast rocked by allegations against the previous leading man, made before the Brisbane season commenced, by Christie Whelan Brown, Erika Heynatz and Angela Scundi, cast members from the 2014 production and, for the record, as far as I can see, all without reason to fabricate anything against anyone to further their careers. (Honestly. The things people say). Regardless of our understanding of the facts, the women experienced something that negatively affected them.

 

It doesn’t matter if we would not be affected in the same way. What happens to a person happens to them in a way that no one else can ever fully appreciate. It is a person’s right to feel the way they feel about a situation. 

 

The producers had told us in the early press, “this is sure to be an even wilder and sexier night out than ever before…” and perhaps it is, if you don’t get out much. The reward this time, if you’ve seen the show before, is in the night out itself, the whole event of going to the theatre with friends, a bit of fun, and also, thankfully, in solid performances across the board.

 

 

The standout, however, is Kristian Lavercombe, with more than a thousand performances to his name as Riff Raff. Again, he’s absolutely sensational, building vocally on the work we’d heard previously and deceiving us into thinking we’re witnessing Richard O’Brien’s soul take up residence in another body. Amanda Harrison holds her own as the Usherette and Magenta. (It’s a really tough gig to keep us enthralled throughout that opening number of obscure sci-fi references and plot points!)

 

 

It seems appropriate to note that one of the best ever in this dual role, Jayde Westaby, can be seen across the hall until February 4 as Tanya in Mamma Mia!

 

 

Brendan Irving is, once again, just beautiful as the all-singing, all-posing, all-glittering and glistening Rocky, bringing to life a scene that threatens to slow the bull-in-a-china-shop pace if it were not for his impressive posturing. The hand mic, used inexplicably by both Rocky and Frank-N-Furter for this scene and the following, loses its potency after about three seconds, becoming a distraction. I’ve never understood its inclusion. Also, Irving’s an aerialist and I’m still confounded as to why his considerable skill in the air hasn’t been incorporated by Director, Christopher Luscombe. The bizarre interruption of Eddie (James Bryers) also lightens the mood before it turns gruesome, with Frank’s response to the appearance of this unwelcome guest. Unfortunately, Hot Patootie is turned into an untidy non-event rather than featuring as the fully choreographed showstopper it might be (and wasn’t it, in 1992?). This time the morbid game of chainsaw cat and mouse played out across the stage is chaotic, but doesn’t add to the excitement of the show. This oddity, common in blockbuster smash hits demanding more of the marketing and publicity teams than of the touring company, occurs across the entirety of the show, with the exception of Lavercombe’s Riff Raff and Rob Mallet’s (adorable) Brad. The ensemble is rounded out by Michelle Smitheram as Janet, Nadia Komazec as Columbia and Phantoms, Bianca Baykara, Ross Chisari, Hayley Martin and Stephen McDowell. The on-stage band is ably led to light speed by MD Dave Skelton.

 

As for Australia’s newest superstar, Adam Rennie turns the role on its head to become the sweetest transvestite we’ve ever seen. It’s true, he’s missing some specificity and physical extravagance (Tim Curry speaks about creating the character here), at least on opening night, although he may have spiced things up and nailed more precise movement (and electrifying stillness) towards the end of the season, but he’s gorgeous and he makes it his own. His is a thoroughly entertaining performance, marked especially by sensational singing and his unique sweet and cheeky take on the role. In fact, whether or not he means to, Rennie comes across as just about the antithesis of McLachlan’s leering hyper sexual alien scientist. And despite being at odds with the character’s placement and purpose in the story, it’s refreshing, perfectly non-threatening, and perfect for this (political climate) light, fun, smash-hit re-staging, which really does appear to assume we’ve seen it all before, and also, that its audiences will continue to get younger and younger… (The film retained its R-Rating in some countries for the single silhouetted sex scene). QPAC advises: This show has rude parts…parental guidance recommended.

 

Why go back again and again to Rocky Horror? It makes little to no sense, neither its costumes (Sue Blane) nor its fluid sexuality are particularly shocking anymore, and we can watch the original film, which is arguably the best version anyway, whenever we like. But there’s something irresistible, isn’t there, about the electric energy of a live glam rock infused performance, and the permission to relinquish judgment and inhibitions, as well as the fleeting connection with strangers in a dark space, lost in time, and lost in space. And meaning.

 

 

Enjoy the ride and take what you will, again, from Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show.


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