Theatre Royal, April 3


Those of us who saw Reg Livermore play Frank N Furter in the 1974 Oz production of Rocky Horror Show will never forget the sudden jolt of the new; the thrill of witnessing a show like no other. Fifty years on, it’s still that. Where most musicals take themselves seriously, Rocky Horror sends up everything in sight, including itself.

It blasts the fourth wall into oblivion and invites us into the silliness, not just as voyeurs, but as participants – if that is your fetish. And after five decades of productions and a long tradition of midnight sessions of the movie, the audience is well primed to play its role. In fact some of the night’s funniest lines came from the heckling, and when Jason Donovan got the giggles in Act Two and struggled to whip his jaw back into line, it could almost have been written into Richard O’Brien’s original script. The audience, of course, was in hysterics.

Dylan Alcott. Photo and top photo): Wendell Teodoro.

That’s part of the point. Unlike other musicals or plays, Rocky Horror is about watching people playing the characters, rather than just watching the characters. In this regard it has more in common with Monty Python or The Goodies than with conventional stage shows. No one pretends anything is real. It’s all a big joke, with some thumping rock songs to thicken the lunacy.

This is not Jason Donovan’s first time playing Frank, but it’s hard to imagine he was any better 25 years ago. He has the presence and the voice, and he gleefully turns high camp into high comedy with every flick of his hips as he strides about the stage in fishnets, almost daring the rest of the cast to match his performance.

And here’s the thing: they don’t. It’s not that anyone’s bad – although Deirdre Khoo, who plays Janet, has a very shrill singing voice. It’s that they can’t quite rise to Donovan’s level of toying with us and toying with the show. Even for them, only part of the job is acting, singing and dancing: the other part is being as spontaneous as a good stand-up comedian.

Jason Donovan and Henry Rollo. Photo: Daniel Boud.

Seeing it the night after its almost direct contemporary, Grease the Musical, makes comparison inevitable. Grease asks us to believe it, even if director Luke Joslin’s production tries to dilute that extravagant demand by emphasising the characters’ cartoonishness. Anyone who takes Rocky Horror seriously needs a brain transplant.

But both shows have built-in flat spots. Rocky Horror runs out of comedic puff in Act Two, when the goofy humour that’s lit up the first half turns to terminal and interminable inanity. It’s a shame, because, jokes aside, there’s a slab of Act One, when The Time Warp is followed by Sweet Transvestite, that constitutes as strong a pair of songs as in any rock musical ever written.

Dylan Alcott plays the Narrator, and, while the stage might not be the ex-Paralympian’s natural habitat, he plainly enjoys himself and gives as good as he gets from the sharp tongues in the crowd. Blake Bowden (Brad), Henry Rollo (Riff Raff), Stellar Perry (Magenta) and Darcey Eagle (Columbia) are all entertaining, and Daniel Erbacher is a suitably buff Rocky.

Originating in the West End, director David Luscombe’s production has been running somewhere in the world for 18 years. That’s because Rocky Horror claims a unique place in popular culture: an entertainment that’s part B-grade movie parody, part glam rock concert and part camp comedy; one that’s become a ritual as much as a musical.

Until May 12.