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Review: The Rocky Horror Show

Arts & Culture

A drag show, play, sci-fi parody and rock ’n’ roll concert all rolled into one, The Rocky Horror Show is still as energetic and entertaining as ever, writes reviewer Greg Elliott.

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Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show has been delighting audiences for more than 40 years and has provided opportunities for a range of directors, designers, choreographers and performers to display their skills in reinventions of the show.

I have been fortunate to see Daniel Abineri, Marcus Graham and Tim Curry in the roles of Frank N Furter – and now Craig McLachlan∗, who won a Helpmann Award in 2014 for his portrayal of the sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania and has returned to the role for this fresh production.

Rocky Horror is such a fun show that the performers must have a ball with its great songs, choreography and non-stop gags. It is jam-packed with entertainment and, because of its cult following, there is the added dimension of the audience calling out and the cast responding.

The story, of course, begins with Brad and Janet –  a squeaky-clean, conservative, virginal pair of lovebirds, played with great innocence and charm by Michelle Smitheram and Rob Mallett – who get a flat tyre in the middle of a storm and walk to a nearby castle seeking to use its phone.

The master of the castle, fishnet-stocking-wearing mad scientist Frank N Furter, opens Brad and Janet’s eyes and bodies to a world of sexuality and indulgence, changing them forever and in ways more significant than simply swapping their conservative white underwear for something a little more sexy.

Craig McLachlan’s Frank N Further with Janet and Brad (Michelle Smitheram and Rob Mallett) in the Adelaide opening night performance. Photo: Jeff Busby

McLachlan displays his versatility as Frank. He sings with great gusto and is also very funny – the show incorporates slapstick, mime and physical comedy as he minces across the stage, intimidating (or seducing) the young couple. McLachlan’s timing is superb and his relationship with the audience and their calling out is clever; his retorts always feel spontaneous.

Audience anticipation mounts as soon as the brilliant band plays the opening bars of the show in the revamped Festival Theatre. Hugh Durrant’s terrific set begins with a colourful cartoon car and church, then rapidly transforms into the interior of Frank N Furter’s castle, exposing the band above.

A swirl of film pays homage to the iconic The Rocky Horror Picture Show movie and the sci-fi films that inspired it. Nick Richings’ lighting continually surprises and delights, Nathan M Wright’s choreography is astounding, and Sue Blane’s costumes would make almost anyone lose control.

The Australian cast of the 2018 Rocky Horror Show production. Photo: Jeff Busby

It is not easy to re-create such an iconic show, but the cast members each bring something of their own to their roles.  Kristian Lavercombe, as Riff Raff, and Amanda Harrison, as the Usherette and Magenta, sing “Science Fiction” and “The Time Warp” like they are out of this world, and Nadia Komazec’s tap-dancing routine as Columbia is something to look forward to. Cameron Daddo is polished as The Narrator (a role which will be filled by Peter Goers at several Adelaide performances), Brendan Irving (Rocky) looks very fit for a man made in just seven days, and Adam Rennie, as Eddie and Dr Scott, is versatile and entertaining.

The small chorus of singer/dancers add to the big numbers and create images and additional characters that help bring scenes to life.

Over time, The Rocky Horror Show has become less controversial and has probably played a role in changing many societies’ attitudes towards homosexuality, transgender issues and sexuality in general, but it has lost none of its energy and life.

It is theatre, a drag show, a sci-fi parody and rock ’n’ roll concert all rolled into one. It is a unique experience to be with 2000 people standing, cheering, singing and dancing “The Time Warp”.

If you know the film and songs, take yourself off to the Festival Theatre and experience The Rocky Horror Show as it was meant to be – performed live – and if you don’t know it, go along prepared to give yourself over to absolute pleasure.

Since this review was published, news has broken that three cast members from the 2014 run of The Rocky Horror Show have accused Craig McLachlan of sexually inappropriate behaviour; he has strenuously denied the claims. Asked how this would affect the Adelaide season of The Rocky Horror Show, which is scheduled to continue until January 13, the Adelaide Festival Centre issued a statement today (January 8) saying: “We are awaiting advice from the producers of The Rocky Horror Show and understand they will issue a statement this afternoon.”

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