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The Rocky Horror Show

It’s the sign of a good show when your biggest complaints at intermission are “it went too quickly” and “there was too much to look at on stage at any one time”.

Henry Rollo, Stellar Perry and cast

The 50th anniversary celebration of “The Rocky Horror Show” is just as much of an explosion of sound, colour and sex it needs to be to both honour and the original show and keep pace with the spectacle of newer musicals (and I use “explosion” literally: I had the wonderful fortune of being in the firing line of one of the confetti cannons and that overwhelming blast of gold shimmer has guaranteed that every subsequent theatre visit will be lacklustre by comparison).

As the anniversary suggests, the story of Rocky Horror is half a century old at this point: wholesome couple Brad Majors and Janet Weiss find themselves broken down outside the home of mad scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter who, with his waitstaff and his groupies, are celebrating his scientific breakthrough: the creation of life itself. This synopsis is both totally accurate and a wild misinterpretation of the main (pelvic) thrust of the show, which is both an homage to B horror movies of the 20th century and a patchwork of sexual subversion.

There is not a single cast member out of place in this production, but Deirdre Khoo as Janet is singularly spectacular. This isn’t just because Khoo manages to thread the needle of being innocent, sexual, funny, and a stunning vocalist, but because the character of Janet is just hard to play. She has to be enough of an ingenue that her eventual corruption is shocking, but in on the joke enough that she doesn’t feel like she’s in the wrong show. Simply put, Deirdre Khoo is the best Janet I have ever seen, and I don’t just mean in productions of The Rocky Horror Show, I mean in any work of fiction that has ever featured a character called Janet.

Deidre Khoo and Ethan Jones

Stellar Perry and Ellis Dolan both pull double duty in the cast, as The Usherette/Magenta, and Eddie/Dr Scott respectively, and in both instances they highlight the vastness of their talent. Perry in particular is a charm factory; she has the enviable gift of a theatre performer where you are simply compelled to watch her. I’ve singled people out, but again, there is no foot set wrong in the entire cast. Columbia is a goofball-coated firecracker, Brad is a gangly prude until suddenly he isn’t, Riff-Raff is almost too hot to pull off creepy (but is definitely creepy), and Rocky is so statuesque it should be illegal.

The two big names rounding out the cast are Jason Donovan as Frank-N-Furter, and Myf Warhurst as the narrator. Jason Donovan started the show opting to highlight the “mad” in “mad scientist”, making his Frank a frenetic loose unit, at times staggering about like a drunk person at a party trying desperately to pull themselves together enough to tell you a boring story. It looked, at first, like he would lack the charisma and command of the room to pull off the seduction of act two, but as soon as act two began that worry was laid to rest. From mad scientist to mad with power, Donovan took control of the show and rode Frank’s wave of nihilism all the way to the bows.

There are only two question marks I have over the entire production. The first was Myf Warhurst as the narrator. I perhaps had preconceived notions of the narrator as a commanding presence, and Myf felt more like an every-person type; a stand-in for the audience almost. She reacted with delight and laughter when the infamous Audience Participation kicked in, and on one hand that might seem like an actor breaking, but in this instance feels like an intentional choice, a way to make those audience members who aren’t familiar with the deep mythology surrounding Rocky Horror not feel left behind. I still think the narrator should be sharper and more in charge of the space, but I appreciate the change of pace Warhurst brings. And besides, what’s the point of doing a show for fifty years if you’re not going to try new things?

Ellis Dolan and cast

The other question mark is the pacing of the show, especially the songs. Act one wrapped up in less than 50 minutes, and had the audience snapping their heads to their watches like “What? Already!?” And the songs themselves did occasionally feel like were set at TikTok speed; where songs are arbitrarily pitched up. Then again, the show’s most enduring song is called “The Time Warp”, so perhaps being left discombobulated about the passage of time is the whole point?

Regardless of the reason, this production of The Rocky Horror Show, celebrating the 50th anniversary of its debut, makes an excellent case for doing The Time Warp again. And again. And again.

Photography: Daniel Boud


Tickets and further information about the Australian Tour of The Rocky Horror Show can be found here

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