You may feel decidedly underdressed as you go about your business in Woking this week, as undoubtedly you will spot more than the normal extent of men and women tottering around in high heels, wearing fish-neck stockings, basques and outlandish make-up. This is because the inimitable Rocky Horror Show is in town, giving anyone and everyone an excuse to let their hair down (or pile it up) and live the fun of this classic cult show.
There are few people these days who haven’t heard of the show or seen the film. Debuting in 1973, and then as a film in 1975, it has become entrenched in modern pop culture. The stage show is frequently on tour, and was last seen in Woking only two years ago, but even if you have never seen a performance, who has never fumbled through the lyrics and pelvic thrust moves of the Time Warp? Or not seen an image of Tim Curry, oozing sexuality in the original role of the transvestite Dr Frank N Furter, which has since allowed middle-aged men the opportunity to legitimately wear sexy feminine underwear in a humorous way?
The Rocky Horror Show, Richard O’Brien’s brainchild, is a tribute to the B movie horror genre of the 1940s, where much of the humour was unintended. This initial concept has morphed however, as much of the enjoyment of the performance comes from audience participation and heckling of the narrator. There are standard audience responses to certain parts of the show, but as Dom Joly (bravely taking on the role of the Narrator in this tour) explained in a recent Radio 2 interview, you never quite know what to expect.
The story is simple – well, sort of. Young, innocent couple Brad and Janet are stranded in a storm and seek refuge in the castle of Frank N Furter, coincidentally on the night of the revelation of Frank’s experiment – the creation of the human creature ‘Rocky’. Rocky’s appearance causes quite a stir in the castle, and takes the story on a surprising rollercoaster of comedy horror, overt sexuality, rock ‘n’ roll and science fiction.
This is a well-oiled production. Laughter and jokes could be heard on stage as a curtain malfunction temporarily halted the performance after the opening number, and it was clear by the good-humoured response by those on stage and off, that it wouldn’t affect the ensuing performances. Indeed not. The audience – many dressed up in skimpy costumes, especially for the time of year – were keen to get involved and the opportunity to get out of their seats to Time Warp was warmly embraced. Not one performance stood out, as they were all excellent. Stephen Webb, looking rather like Eddie Izzard at his best, played lead role of Frank N Furter with powerful stage presence and voice. Rocky, ‘the blonde and tanned creation’, was immaculately fit, and his gymnastic acumen quite show-stopping. The chorus effect of the phantoms was perfectly harmonious, as was the slick but energetic choreography.
This is quite simply a joyous romp of vibrant music, songs, costumes and outrageous storyline, that leaves you feeling somehow liberated. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes it so enduring, as over 40 years since its debut, it’s still unconventional and fresh. Whatever the reason, it’s a must-see musical, and still one of the best.
[Amanda Briggs March 2019]
The Rocky Horror Show is at the New Victoria theatre in Woking from 4-9 March. Performances on Monday to Thursday at 8pm, Friday and Saturday at 5.30 pm and 8.30pm