There are few other shows so beloved or so enduring as the Rocky Horror Show. It’s a summer Monday evening and the theatre is packed from floor to rafters with fans clad in their best Columbia, Magenta, Rocky, Brad, Janet and even a few Frank N. Furter costumes for the latest tour of this nearly 50-year-old show.
The audience is in full-on participation mode and the excitement before curtain up is tangible. The second the Usherette (a fabulous Laura Harrison, who also doubles up as Magenta) steps onstage, the audience is raring to go. Every infamous call back is on cue, every moment for joining in is taken – this is a crowd that knows every word and every step to every song and is here to enjoy the night to the fullest.
There are many reasons why Rocky Horror has been performed almost continuously since its creation in 1973 – the big hits come thick and fast, the dialogue is cheeky and cheesy in equal measure, it never takes itself seriously, but the talent and commitment of the cast and the quality of Richard O’Brien’s genius writing means that under the 1950s B-Movie veneer, this is a show of quality.
Boy band royalty, Blue’s Duncan James steps into Frank’s glittered platforms and satin corset and boy does he give it his all. From entrance to exit he looks like he’s living his best life and judging from the ear-splitting reception from the audience they are loving every minute along with him. James is ably supported by dance royalty Joanne Clifton, who again demonstrates how multi-talented she is, singing and acting as Janet and there’s strong support from a fine-sounding James Darch as Brad. While Rocky Horror veteran and fan-favourite Kristian Lavercombe is indisposed tonight, his understudy Andrew Ahern is a revelation as Riff Raff and Philip Franks, arguably one of the finest narrators in the world of Rocky Horror, returns.
There are few shows that pack more entertainment into two hours, and few that stand up to repeat viewing like Rocky Horror. Hands-down one of the best musicals of all time and with this first-rate cast, it would be a crime to miss it.
Runs until 17 August 2019 | Image: Contributed
This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub
What made you say yes to playing Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show?
It’s been a dream role of mine for a long time. I heard they were doing The Rocky Horror Show and I think Frank-N-Furter is one of the best roles you can play in musical theatre. It’s such an iconic role and the show has such a loyal following. It’s such a wonderfully written show and I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great to play Frank?’ I rang my agent and said: ‘I hear they’re casting The Rocky Horror Show can you get me an audition?’ He did and so I went in, did the audition and got a recall. When I went back, I said to myself ‘I’m gonna get this’ and I did. I was really lucky because I fought off lots of competition from other well-known actors who were up for the part. I was like ‘No, no, no, this is my part!’ so when I got it, I was really proud of myself.
Everything! And of course, he has one of the best entrances in musical theatre. The reaction you get from his opening number Sweet Transvestite is amazing because it’s such a great song and you come out in a cloak, then take the cloak off to reveal his really out-there outfit. It’s a great moment.
Can you relate to him in any way?
For me it’s more about having fun rather than relatability. The part of Frank-N-Furter is so twisted and so dark and that’s such fun to play. I mean, he’s essentially a psychopathic doctor who wants to create a man for his own pleasure and he’ll kill whoever gets in his way. Coming from Hollyoaks where I got to play a serial killer I thought it’d be great to then go and play Frank – to explore that dark, twisted mind again of someone who is living on the edge, someone who isn’t afraid to do what he has to do to get what he wants. That kind of character is really fun to play.
Credit : Johan Persson
Presumably with this role you’re very comfortable in heels?
I am, yes, and I love getting dressed up every night, putting on the corset, the fishnets and heels. It’s such an empowering moment because when I walk out on that stage, I feel huge compared to the other cast members. I feel like I’m towering above everybody and instantly I get that sense of command that Frank has. [Laughs] And of course I’m not shy so I love strutting round. I’m really embracing it. Also, I have a bit of a fascination with drag queens and drag artists. I’ve become a huge fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s like my number one guilty pleasure. I cannot miss an episode of any of RuPaul’s stuff.
Do you do much ad-libbing in response to the audience shout-outs?
There’s none of that from me. The only person who’s allowed to do that is The Narrator. They are the only ones who get to heckle back. I can do an eyebrow raise or a little smirk because, apart from The Narrator, Frank is the only one who’s allowed to acknowledge the audience.
What sort of shout-outs have you had so far?
There’s a lot of rude stuff and I got to do a scene in bed with Ben Adams from A1 when he was in the show. So it’s two boyband members in a bed, which is quite funny and prompts quite a few amusing shout-outs.
Why do you think The Rocky Horror Show has endured?
I think it’s down to the genius of Richard O’Brien. He created The Rocky Horror Show back in the 70s when it was really taboo to talk about certain subjects and having a man dressed up as a transvestite was unheard of. It was like ‘What on earth is this Tim Curry guy doing?’ It was banned in some countries because they thought it was completely wrong and it had a tough start because a lot of people didn’t know how to take it. A lot of people found it in bad taste but that was a sign of the times, of course. As attitudes towards sexuality, sex and transgender issues have changed we’ve become a lot more open-minded and liberal, haven’t we? It’s fantastic that we now embrace shows like The Rocky Horror Show. It’s great that this show in particular has stood the test of time. It seems to be getting bigger and bigger, with more and more people getting dressed up to come see it as well as knowing the story and shout-outs. The show gains more and more fans every time it goes out on tour.
When it comes to musical theatre, what have been your favourite roles?
I’m really lucky that I’ve gotten to do so many great shows. I loved playing Billy Flynn in Chicago. That’s a great role and I was lucky enough to play him again in the West End revival last year. I got to work with Alexandra Burke, who I adore, and we had great chemistry together. I loved playing Tick in Priscilla because it’s one of the most incredible, most liberating roles. Me having a child and being a gay man, I really related to the character. And The Rocky Horror Show is really good fun. It’s one of those shows where you get on stage every night and just have a really good time. It doesn’t feel like having to go to work and the audiences love it. The music is great, Frank’s words are so delicious and the way the story is told is just brilliant. I’m living my best life right now.
Definitely. As long as people want to come see us there’ll always be Blue. We’re very lucky that we get to travel all over the world. We get to play sold-out arenas wherever we go and we get to have these amazing trips away. We were in Bahrain recently then we went to Singapore and Malaysia, which was wonderful – to be able to travel to these countries with my friends and get up on stage and sing songs that everybody knows.
When it comes to theatre, do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?
This show consumes quite a lot of preparation with the make-up, the wig and everything. I have my little routine of doing my make-up, getting the wig put on, getting into the costume and then I’m on stage. There’s not a lot of time to think or prepare. After a show I take it all off then spend up to an hour at the stage door signing stuff and having pictures with everybody. There are always so many people at the stage door, which is lovely and I always want to make sure to give time to everybody. By the time I get home after that it’s like 11.30pm and I’m knackered.
What’s the one thing you couldn’t be on tour without?
My pillow goes everywhere with me. I cannot sleep in a hotel room without it because I can’t stand those horrible synthetic pillows you usually get. I have a proper old-school, feathered, heavy pillow which goes with me everywhere.
You’re bringing the show to the King’s Theatre, Glasgow. Does it have any significance for you?
Me and the Blue boys performed in Glasgow when we were on tour with Wet Wet Wet and we were the first act to ever play in their brand-new arena, which was great. The audiences were great too. I do find that the further north you go the rowdier they get.
The Rocky Horror show is coming to the Kings Theatre August 12 – August 17 2019 starring Duncan James (Blue) and Joanne Clifton (Strictly Come Dancing).
It’s astonishing to think that 1983’s Flashdance The Movie, took over $100 million at the box office. That level of success, coupled with the fact that nostalgia for the 80s sells (as evidenced by never-ending tours of Dirty Dancing and shows such as Fame, Footloose, 9 to 5 and The Wedding Singer), means it’s no surprise that it has resurfaced, in a shiny new production for 2017.
Unlike the frothy film, with its flimsy, escapist storyline and scenes that play like a series of 1980s MTV music videos, the musical pads out the simplistic screenplay with numerous sub-plots in order to add some depth and grit (pole-dancing clubs, shattered dreams of stardom, drug abuse…)
Alex(andra) Owens (Joanne Clifton), welder by day, exotic dancer at Harry’s Bar by night, longs to pursue her dream of becoming a trained, professional dancer. In her day job at the steelworks she catches the eye of Nick Hurley (Ben Adams), the son of the mill owner. Romance, inevitably ensues, as do a series of somewhat predictable hurdles until this working class gal does good.
The plot is similar to British classic Billy Elliot that followed a few years later (only this time done with a lot more class). There’s the promise of a rousing story of working class, female empowerment here, but it’s all a bit wishy-washy to be inspirational.
Joanne Clifton is casting gold – a national favourite from her stint in Strictly Come Dancing and a member of a British dancing family dynasty. Clifton astonished many with her decision to leave one of the top UK TV shows, especially in her year as reigning champion, but she is entirely justified in doing so. She has a bright future beyond the small screen (and away from a show whose producers are notoriously fickle at hiring and firing even the most popular of dancers). Unlike her recent role in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Clifton’s voice gets a chance to really soar and her impressive American accent remains on-point throughout. It would be wonderful to see her in a show that truly showcases her considerable theatre skills.
In support, former A1 singer Ben Adams turns in a commendable performance as boss and love-interest Nick. The duo between Clifton and Adams Here and Now is an absolute corker.
The ensemble are strong and their effort is palpable, even in the auditorium. However, they are let down a bit by some less than scintillating choreography, which in the confined playing space, looks cramped.
If it’s an evening of undemanding froth you’re after then Flashdance is the show for you. Get out the lycra and leggings and catch it as it tours the UK.
Based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, which was itself inspired by the 1956 British musical Chrysanthemum, Jeanine Tesoro, Dick Scanlan and Richard Morris’ musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, has always had considerable shortcomings. While some outstanding cast members and a polished set design by Morgan Large elevate the source material in this production, this pastiche written in 2002, remains lacking that certain spark a show needs to be truly entertaining.
It’s 1922 and small-town girl Millie Dillmount comes to big city New York to marry for money rather than love, but events take a sinister turn when she checks into the Hotel Priscilla for single women, not knowing it’s owned by Mrs Meers, the leader of a white slavery ring.
Racky Plews’ current production does little to address the show’s many faults. Instead of skilfully evoking the era, it feels uncomfortably out of step and in 2017, increasingly offensive. While it may be argued that the character of Mrs Meers, a pantomime “Chinese” landlady, is sending up racial stereotypes, the recent yellowface casting controversy in Howard Barker’s play In The Depths of Dead Love, means that any director allowing such a grotesque characterisation, even if it’s played for comedy, as that of Michelle Collins (chopsticks in hair, unintelligible Pidgin English), really needs to be called to account for their choices. There are also some uncomfortably out of date sexual references which would make any feminist’s toes curl and the running time is an issue at a posterior-numbing two hours 45 minutes – some judicious trimming wouldn’t go amiss.
Save for the title tune, the music is utterly unforgettable despite clever borrowings from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore and Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta, most songs, like the musical itself, are over-long. So it’s down to the cast to save the show. Strictly Come Dancing‘s current champion, Joanne Clifton, is undoubtedly a fine dancer, and in possession of a surprisingly effective voice, but she lacks the acting chops to pull this off completely convincingly. In support, both Katherine Glover as Millie’s naive roommate Dorothy Brown and Graham MacDuff as her boss Trevor Graydon are superb. MacDuff, in particular, gives a masterclass in comic acting. The ensemble is universally first class.
Shining bright above all else in the production is Morgan Large’s Art Deco set (borrowed from a previous production staged at Kilworth House), shimmering silvery grey, it transforms seamlessly between the show’s locations.
This remains a show with a dodgy plot and characters, and a host of largely forgettable tunes, but the beautiful set and the hugely talented, well-drilled cast are enough to make it an amusing distraction for a dull winter’s evening.