Tag Archives: King’s Theatre

INTERVIEW: Scottish comedy legend Janey Godley

She’s been dubbed the ‘godmother of Scottish comedy’ and numbers Billy Connolly among her fans. Now, Janey Godley is set to spread her appeal across the nation as this quintessentially Glaswegian comic takes the Soup Pot Tour over the border and down south. “There will be a different demographic politically at these shows, but remember Nicola Sturgeon gets it in the neck from me as well. I will have to speak slower and make sure that it’s not all about just hating the Tories, though that will be difficult. But by and large, people who come to stand-up are open-minded people, they tend not to be died-in-the-wool Brexiteers who hate the Scottish.”

This tour has Janey wielding a variety of talents, as she delivers the kind of forthright stand-up which has earned her a strong reputation on the comedy circuit and a loyal band of followers. But she will also be displaying her skills at improv, as she stands by a screen and narrates adlibbed voiceovers of people (many of whom are today’s crop of politicians), giving them a heavy Scottish accent and inventing a story, many of which involve making soup for the community.

“The soup pot is very universal: if you’re in Australia, America, Brazil, France Germany or Alaska, and someone dies or gets married, people will make soup. The soup pot is the hub of the community. When somebody died near us when I was a kid, somebody would make the big soup pot so all the visitors had something warm to drink and eat. It’s part of us all being in it together. Of course, that was before people discovered they were gluten free and worried about being allergic to lentils.”

Janey first discovered that she could develop this new strand of her career on the night of the Scottish Independence vote in 2014. “I first did the voiceovers live at the Wild Cabaret club in Glasgow where the big screens were up. When the news came through and it was all looking a bit bleak, we turned the volume down and I started talking over the top of people. The audience loved it and I realised this was something I could do really well.”

 

She then poked fun online at the likes of Theresa May, Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon, replacing their talk of policy and elections with chat about big Isa and her soup pots. A recent piece she did on Kim Kardashian (largely mocking her for walking backwards) also went down spectacularly well, while clips of supermodels, Pathé newsreels and Fanny Craddock (the original celebrity chef) are given the Godley treatment. “I started off doing it for me, really. I liked the fact that I could give those politicians a whole new background persona and the idea that they might have these ordinary conversations; I love the idea of that normalcy which cuts through all that bulls**t. The ones that are the hardest to do are of Katie Hopkins, because the audience just boo like they’re at a pantomime.”

Since the voiceovers took off, an unusual trend started which reminded Janey of the halcyon days of Spitting Image when politicians would tune in avidly on a Sunday night, desperate to see if they had been captured in wax and caricatured in song. “MPs will say ‘are you going to do me?’ I’d like to do some international ones; I do Trump but I want to do Australian and Canadian politicians. There’s a lot of fodder to go on.”

When she started performing comedy in the mid-90s, there were very few female acts kicking about, but Janey Godley has now become a standard bearer in Scotland for young women who might fancy a career in stand-up. “I did Have I Got News For You and I was the first working-class Scottish female comic to do that: the first and last. There are girls from Glasgow who saw comedy and it would be Kevin Bridges and Frankie Boyle, so they all thought ‘that’s not our job, that’s for Scottish men’. But when they see me and they see someone like Fern Brady, they think ‘yeah, that’s also a woman’s job.’”

Recently, Janey has ramped up her acting CV, appearing in Wild Rose (staring Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters and Sophie Okonedo) about a young woman trying to make her way in the world of Country music, and has written and directed a short film entitled The Last Mermaid. She’s also had a one-woman play run Off-Broadway, and will be on TV screens soon playing the lawyer of Martin Compston’s character in Traces, a crime drama from an original idea by Val McDermid.

But for now, she’s enjoying making people laugh all over the country with both her no-holds barred stand-up and the unique nature of these new voiceovers. “The most important thing is that this has never been done before, no other comic in the world is doing this. I’ve been doing stand-up for over 20 years but it took a Tory called Theresa to make me famous.” Mrs May might now be virtually out of the public eye, but the moment has surely arrived for Janey Godley to take centre stage.

Contributed by Brian Donaldson

Images: Murdo Macleod

INTERVIEW: Foil Arms & Hog

Foil Arms and Hog will be heading to the  King’s Theatre, Glasgow on Sunday, 23rd February 2020.  Here they talk about their new show Swines.

Sean Finegan, as befits his status as the straight man in the Irish sketch group Foil Arms and Hog, is the spokesman for the trio off stage. It makes life easier for us to speak directly, he says, adding drily: “Otherwise I might say something witty and you’d attribute it to one of the other guys.”

We chat about their latest show, Swines, which is touring the UK after a sell-out season at the Edinburgh Fringe, but first Finegan explains how the trio met and got their distinctive name.

Finegan (Foil), Conor McKenna (Arms) and Sean Flanagan (Hog) were studying at University College Dublin (reading architecture, engineering and genetics respectively) 12 years ago, when they met through their shared love of performing.

“We were friends through the drama society but it was Sean Flanagan writing a play based on Father Ted that led to us forming the group,” says Finegan. “He was Dougal, I was Bishop Brennan and Conor was Father Ted. We had permission to tour round Ireland from [Father Ted’s creators] Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, and when the play finished we decided we should do a sketch show together.”

And the memorable name for the trio came out of good-humoured banter. “We came up with loads of naff names that punned on the word ‘sketch’ and rejected them. And then we were at a party one night and we were slagging each other off and came up with them.

“I’m the straight man, so I’m the foil; Conor is all arms and legs and very clumsy on stage; and Sean always hogs the limelight and steals all the laughs. They’re roles that we very easily fall into on stage.”

Finegan admits that some of the sketches they wrote and performed back then “we wouldn’t get away with now, they were quite insulting to all sorts of people”, but that over the years the humour has become more sophisticated.

That’s probably down to their work ethic; they write separately and then meet almost daily to develop the ideas. “Ideas get torn to shreds in the process and then we jump on to the idea and add more jokes and develop them. It sometimes takes months to nail a sketch.” Do they ever argue? “Well there are three of us, so it usually works out as two-to-one. No one has ever stormed out, put it that way,” Finegan laughs.

Finegan recalls when the group started out. “In the UK there’s a big sketch comedy scene but in Ireland that doesn’t exist. In our early days a lot of people would see three guys come on stage looking like Boyzone or something and they’d be instantly against us. But performing on the same bill with stand-up comics, we learnt so much about audience interaction. As any stand-up comic will tell you, you need to engage with the audience quickly and get them on your side.

“So we learnt pretty quickly and our comedy has become a sort of weird hybrid of sketch and messing with the crowd.”

But Foil Arms and Hog’s audience interaction is not cruel or humiliating. “I hope we’re not,” says Finegan, “because the intention is to bring everyone on board as it can be terrifying for some people [to be picked on]. But we love doing it because you never know what the audience may do, and we get a bit of a buzz from it. It’s the element that makes every show unique.”

In their second year at the Fringe they saw Edinburgh Comedy Awards winner Dr Brown (clown performer Phil Burgers). “I think we had thought clowning was the ‘honk honk’ kind of thing but then we realised that it’s about going with the flow. A couple of years later we attended one of his courses and it’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. It was brilliant stuff.

“It helped us so much on stage, particularly when things go wrong, as we might get to a funnier place with those skills we learned.”

Foil Arms and Hog have a dedicated following that they have built up over 11 Edinburgh Fringe shows, and for the past six years have posted short films on YouTube – they have clocked up an astonishing one million hits and have nearly 950,000 followers on Facebook. They have a broad demographic and, as Finegan says: “When we look out into the audience and see people from eight to 80 it gives us such a buzz. We have people tell us after a show that their son or daughter has found us online and introduced them to our comedy, and they come to see us together. It’s great.”

Thanks to YouTube, the group’s reach is global – and sometimes unexpected, says Finegan. “We were worried that one recent sketch – about Irish people not really being able to speak Irish – may not necessarily appeal to non-Irish people. But then we got an email from a fan in Sri Lanka saying he loved it because, ‘We’re all forced to learn Tamil when we go to school, it’s exactly like this’.”

But Swines – like all Foil Arms and Hog’s live shows – doesn’t contain any sketches fans may have seen online. “Some people may think they’re going to see the YouTube videos performed live on stage, but absolutely not. We make a point of never performing the online videos live. What works online usually doesn’t work on stage. It’s a very different kind of comedy, and much more surreal live.”

They also have more songs in their shows now than when they started. “They crept in,” Finegan jokes. “My singing’s certainly improved – the lads were carrying me in the beginning – but Conor is a very good singer and Sean knows all about harmonies because he’s been in choirs and stuff. The songs help the flow of the show and we like doing them. Who knows, in 10 years’ time we may be topping the charts.”

Contributed by Veronica Lee

 

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

If it’s a big traditional panto with plenty of glitz and sparkle you’re looking for, then Glasgow King’s certainly delivers year on year.

This year’s offering is Jack and the Beanstalk, starring local panto treasures Elaine C. Smith and Johnny Mac, and save for these two local favourites, it’s a minor TV celeb-free zone and all the better for it.

The story largely follows the traditional tale: there’s a huge furry cow, some magic beans, a growing beanstalk, a fabulously realised giant and the requisite evil baddie, some familiar tunes – mostly oldies, there are no new pop hits. It’s re-set to Glasvegas with some familiar local references thrown in and most of the usual panto tropes intact. There’s no slapstick, a tiny bit of audience participation, the dame is a woman, the princess doesn’t need a man to vanquish the foe and proposes to her beau – all a refreshing move in the right direction. It needs mentioning though that a sequence between Mac and Smith incorporating the names of famous chocolate bars, was seen last year almost exactly in Cinderella at the SEC Armadillo.

Elaine C. Smith is much-loved and a solid pair of hands for a production as big as this and Johnny Mac is entirely loveable and endearing as Jack, the audience is onside from his first wide smile. Less effective is Anne Smith as the panto baddie Mrs. Blunderbore, an unfortunate visual joke from Jack about her performance being a bit flat, is unfortunately accurate, and in contrast to her co-stars her costumes are utterly lacklustre – more Poundland than Pantoland.

All in all, it’s exactly as you would expect every year from the King’s – big, bold and beautifully executed. A fine night of traditional entertainment.

Runs until 5 January 2019

Image: Richard Campbell

Originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Motown the Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Eight hundred dollars, a loan from his family, was all it took for Berry Gordy to set up the legendary Motown Records. Flash forward to 1983, and the eve of Motown’s 25th anniversary. Gordy is reflecting on his career at a point where the label is in deep decline, it’s biggest stars having left for better deals with bigger bucks. He sits at home deciding whether to attend the celebration in his honour. Thankfully, this self-reflection takes us back, right back to Detroit and the foundations of Hitsville USA and to those sublime, timeless tunes – an astonishing 57 number one hits.

And thank goodness for those hits, essentially, Motown the Musical is an extremely sanitised version of events written by Gordy himself. While it tracks Gordy’s infamous and adulterous relationship with Diana Ross (which produced a child, of whom there’s no mention here) at exasperating length, and tries to tackle some more serious themes of the era: JFK’s assassination, Vietnam, the race riots, its clunky and often embarrassingly simplistic script suffers badly in order to shoe-in another hit, it’s choc-full of cheesy lines: “that little Stevie is a wonder” as Wonder appears as a child with his head bobbing wildly (cringe). In sharp contrast, many recent jukebox musicals have managed to weave a decent story around the songs, Jersey Boys, Beautiful and Sunny Afternoon to name a few. It’s very much greatest hits and an exceedingly lazy script, and many of these glorious songs are frustratingly truncated, however, if you revel in the music alone, and the sheer number of songs (50) then you are in for an entertaining evening. 

The set is sparse and simplistic and complemented by colourful projections, so it’s down to the hard-working cast to deliver the goods. The  large ensemble double and triple-up (and more) as the rest of the fabulous Motown roster, including Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, Mary Wells, The Jackson 5 and The Temptations, now stars of their own hit Broadway musical and writers Holland, Dozier, Holland, and do so with energy. Those with a larger role are Shak Gabbidon-Williams, a fine singer, as a conflicted Marvin Gaye and Nathan Lewis as Gordy’s life-long friend Smokey Robinson. Karis Anderson is a competent singer but her portrayal of Diana Ross neither sounds/acts or looks like the diva and the time spent in this already long musical to her relationship with Gordy, seriously outstays its welcome. The audience is left asking why are these greatest hits are being severely cut short when we are subjected to this mortifying cheese-fest. It also needs to be said that this is quite possibly the worst diction this reviewer has heard in many a year.

It skims the surface of Motown’s move from Detroit to Los Angeles and Gordy’s insistence on mainstreaming or prematurely ageing his young and hip roster into old-fashioned middle of the road entertainers. Ultimately the move signified the loss of credibility and cool of the label.

The directorial choices are also somewhat baffling. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a tribute concert or a musical (there’s some audience interaction which entirely breaks down the fourth wall), which means the audience is unclear how to behave – it has arrived in Glasgow on the back of some controversy at a previous venue where audience members were asked to leave due to rowdy, concert-goer behaviour, as the rest of the audience had paid their hard-earned cash to enjoy the musical’s storyline as well as music. Unfortunately the problems seem to have travelled with it. The show is prefaced by an announcement to respect other audience members (unheard of in the venue), which is duly ignored by a section of the audience who are here for a sing-along, and who then cause major disruption as they refuse to leave when their behaviour is challenged by fellow audience members and staff of the venue. Props to the cast who manage to ignore the off-stage drama.

These songs are some of the finest ever written, performed by some of the most talented artists of all time, and the cast largely deliver, of that there’s no question, but this quite frankly awful script lets these talented performers and the Motown legacy down pretty badly.

Runs until 2 November 2019 | Image: Tristram Kenton 

REVIEW: 9 to 5 – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

9 to 5, the 2008 musical based on the hit 1980 movie starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, would seem on the surface to be a strange choice for a West End revival and UK tour in 2019. In the era of #MeToo, it appears that too often that even the most questionable content can be given a free pass if it marks itself as a period piece, is given a glossy coating, has some jolly songs and is marketed as supposedly raising issues of gender equality and sexual politics, even if its done in the dodgiest of fashions. Thankfully, for the most part, director Jeff Calhoun has managed to address the most unpalatable Carry On-like antics of previous productions.

In a nutshell it’s the story of three office workers: Doralee (Georgina Castle), Judy (Amber Davies) and Violet (Louise Redknapp) who unite to turn the tables on their monstrous boss (Sean Needham), tying him up in his own bondage gear and running the office where they work under their own rules.

It is a show of two unequal halves, both literally and figuratively, the first running at one hour ten minutes and packed full of action, the second at a short 45 minutes is actually padded out with some unnecessary songs then rushes to a conclusion that neatly wraps up the action. The entire show is stylistically a bit unimaginative, it takes the stereotypical eye-poppingly colourful 80s look but doesn’t do too much with it, there are a few key set-pieces that are wheeled on and off multiple times. It is all perfectly pleasant but no more than that.

Both Davies and Castle are supremely talented, Davies’ rendition of the Defying Gravity-like Get Out and Stay Out is a show-stopper as is Castle’s Backwoods Barbie and to his great credit, Sean Needham manages to keep tyrannical, misogynistic, panto villain boss Franklin Hart Jnr. entirely likeable. Less successful, though is Redknapp, who, while competent in the pivotal role, is a little lacklustre in her energy level and her voice suffers in comparison to her co-stars. It also needs to be said that the shrillness of the dialogue and the uneven American accents mean that a lot of the jokes fail to land as the audience can’t actually hear them clearly.

While on the surface it may aim to be a rallying cry for working women everywhere, it still retains a few too many mores of 70s and 80s sitcoms. While director Calhoun has managed to negotiate a more palatable path through the material, it might be time for either a bit more of a refresh of the book or a female director. It is interesting to note that the most well rounded, nuanced character is the seemingly ditzy blonde. All that said, if you take it entirely at surface level then it is a bit of fluffy, escapist, crowd-pleasing fun, with a talented and committed cast, and the overwhelmingly female audience seem to adore it, needing no encouragement to get on their feet to sing and dance along with the encore.

Runs until 12 October 2019 | Image: Simon Turtle

Originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Grease The Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The first new production in 25 years, and with the promise of a return to the gritty, raw, original 1971 production, the odds would seem stacked in favour of this Leicester Curve production of Grease, one of the world’s most beloved musicals. However, spectacularly bad casting, lacklustre energy levels and poor vocals, render what should be a corker of a show, into a two and a half hour yawn-fest.

It’s 1959, Rydell High, and a dozen angst ridden teenagers negotiate the ups and downs of high school life: break ups, make ups, peer pressure and pregnancy scares, with a raft of familiar tunes wrapped around the action (if not in the order that fans of the movie are used too).

Principal among the faults of this production is the casting: Dan Partridge’s Danny Zuko is a non-descript leading man, he lacks any presence, his accent is appalling (something that seems endemic in the cast), and his singing voice even worse, and unforgivably there is absolutely no chemistry with the woefully underused Martha Kirby as Sandy, who manages to elevate proceedings in the few occasions she’s on stage. It is absolutely baffling why she would ever fall in love with this loser in the first place. Louis Gaunt is a charismatic Kenickie who makes his mark (the young actor seems as if he would be a much better fit as Danny). Of note too is Natalie Woods, who has a lovely voice and a nice presence as the body-conscious Jan, less successful are Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as Rizzo, who looks thoroughly bored throughout and Darren Bennett, who provides an uncomfortable watch as the boob-grabbing old letch Vince Fontaine, the performance smacks of 1970s Benny Hill/Freddy Starr, not memories you’d want to evoke in 2019.

Are we are so far removed and so distanced from the times in which this is set, that it fails to resonate? Is that the main issue? There’s a moment in the cheesy dialogue when after a break up and a make up between Danny and Sandy where her asks her: ‘don’t you want my ring?’ you can almost hear the female audience cry: ‘no thanks I’d rather have a career’. The entire show plays out like a badly disjointed series of unrelated scenes and the lack of drive doesn’t help. On a positive note, Colin Richmond’s gymnasium design is effective, if simplistic and Guy Hoare’s lighting design tonally compliments it – it should be said though, that it’s particularly heavy on the dry ice.

The entire production from start to end lacks impact, there isn’t an ounce of sparkle and the lack of energy and commitment of the cast is astonishing. One could argue that it’s impossible to make Grease boring, but boy does this production succeed in achieving just that.

Runs until 31 August 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan

Amélie – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Amélie:The Musical is based on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 Academy Award-winning movie about eternal altruist Amélie Poulain, whose desire to help others, through a series of simple acts of kindness, prevents her from finding love. Amélie escapes her dysfunctional childhood and unhappy home life to work as a waitress in a Paris café where she encounters a rag-tag bunch of bohemian misfits, whose lives she sets out to make that little bit better. This 2019 musical version has been significantly re-worked for the UK tour after a less-than-successful and hugely curtailed run on Broadway in 2017, where it ran for only 56 performances after a hefty 27 days of previews.

Any production has to compete with the visually arresting movie and the tobacco-stained design by Madeleine Girling, with gorgeous lighting by Elliot Griggs, largely succeeds in distancing itself from the iconic big-screen version and establishing itself as its own visual entity. It does however exploit many Gallic clichés in its presentation of the Montmartre café where the action takes place. That said, it is an absolute treat to behold.

The film is a series of quirky vignettes from Amélie’s childhood to her life in Paris (the journey necessary to understand Amélie’s future motivations) and as a result there’s a lot of time spent establishing the back story, resulting in the first act of the musical taking its time to come together and hit its stride. The second act is more cohesive and as a whole it manages to almost replicate the entire movie storyline in the confines of a small-scale, fixed set, an impressive feat.

There are an astonishing 35 musical pieces in total, and if any gripe remains with the show, it’s the lack of variety in style and tone of much of the music, motifs are repeated just a tad too often. Yes, many are gorgeous, and they are perfectly played and sung by the actor/musicians, but many add nothing and arrest the progress of the narrative rather than advance it.

The cast are universally first class, Audrey Brisson (Amélie), a Cirque du Soleil veteran is a less soft but compelling version of our heroine and Danny Mac as the object of her unrequited admiration Nino, is sure-footed throughout.

Amélie seems to have largely overcome its previous faults. It’s a tad too long, something which seems to be endemic in most musicals, and there are a few too many musical intervals, but it looks beautiful and is imaginatively staged, with a plethora of tiny, quirky details to delight. And where else can you see ‘Elton John’, some people-sized, singing and dancing figs,  a suicidal goldfish, a Brazilian carnival dancing gnome and a leading lady coming and going by flying lampshade?

Runs until 24 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub 

REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Show – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

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

REVIEW: Hair – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

While Hair has lost its shock value and the antics seem risible to a 21st Century audience, the celebratory and catchy songs still stand the test of time and the committed cast of this 50th Anniversary tour throw themselves fully into the action.

After a 15 minute delay and an unannounced change of leading man, we’re whisked to 1967 New York, where the shadow of the Vietnam War looms over the whole of the US, but particularly the East Village,where Berger (Bradley Judge) and his band of subversive misfits are railing against the world. It’s only Claude (Paul Wilkins) who doesn’t fully buy in to the Hippie counterculture, conflicted between turning on, tuning in and dropping out (to paraphrase Timothy Leary) and fulfilling his duty to his country after being drafted into the Vietnam War.

The plot is scant and there are times when the dialogue is reduced to merely shouting out anti-establishment phrases, so the songs need to be strong to sustain interest. There are plenty of stand-outs: Aquarius, Easy to be Hard, Good Morning Starshine, Let The Sun Shine In and the title track Hair, to name a few. The only gripes would be that there are so many of them – several could be chopped without being detrimental to the show. There’s also a lot less audience interaction – this is not as immersive as expected, at times, it seems more fun for those on stage than for the audience.

The design by Maeve Black, complimented by Ben M Rogers’ lighting does evoke a trippy hippie camp and the costumes are largely on point, these are the final dates of a long tour, so the increased tattiness adds to the atmosphere.

The energetic and accomplished cast clearly give their all and play a large part in bringing the audience in. 

It doesn’t have the impact that it once had and the shock value has gone, even the full-frontal nudity barely raises an eyebrow, but it stands as a window to another time and provides some insight on a pivotal time in social history. It is still worth seeing as a cultural landmark – it, and the shows that followed in its wake, widened the boundaries, gave voice to the youth of the day and changed the theatrical landscape forever.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub.

INTERVIEW: Duncan James on stepping into Frank-N-Furter’s platforms this month in Glasgow

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.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
©The Other Richard

What are most enjoying about playing Frank?

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.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
©The Other Richard

Do you have any plans to work with Blue again?

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).

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