Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Image Source: Ents 24
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy
Date: October 18 2016
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre, Liverpool, England

So, I walk into the theatre for the show. I get a drink to see me through the night, I go the loo to make sure I don't need to get up during the performance, and I take my seat as I see people walking past in fishnet tights ... and leopard-print Speedos ... and, in one case, a gentleman of several decades walking his presumed-wife to their seats whilst keeping her attached to a dog collar, wrapped around their wrists. (To which I remarked to my guest, "Imagine walking around Asda like that!")

Welcome to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

As the opening lyrics of its feature song The Time Warp say, "It's astounding". For me to explain the plot would be a bit of a spoiler in this case, as well as it being such a complex process that you may be thinking that I'm describing an episode of Doctor Who rather than a theatre show. So, rather than recapping the plot, I'll explain certain aspects of the show itself.

There is a Narrator, who moves the plot along whilst contributing with some ad-libbed one-liners. There are a lovely, newly-engaged couple (Brad and Janet, played by Richard Meek and Haley Flaherty) who are looking for help to get home, whose mannerisms and voices are akin to a fairy tale. Oh, but this is very different to a fairy tale, my friends ...

Because there are also aliens, humans who have been genetically created in a laboratory (Rocky, played by Dominic Andersen, is the character who sports the aforementioned leopard-print Speedos), transsexual lunatics who are literally willing to do absolutely anything to anybody, ray guns, scary castles, doctors, sexual acts - a fair few of them, actually - a plethora of catchy songs, some nifty and extravagant dance routines, audience interaction which resembles an episode of WWE Monday Night Raw more than theatre (to the point where I was almost expecting "What?" chants; if you're not a wrestling fan, that reference will go over your head), flashing lights, stunning settings creating a very effective haunted house back-drop, a variety of outlandish costumes which would fit in at a Hugh Hefner garden party (with the audience sporting attires inspired by the characters on-stage), a (very talented) band, and more double entendres than you can shake a stick at, with many coming from the bleachers (who had clearly done their homework). Case in point: when one character is told to prepare for the biggest test yet, certain member of the audience replied - well, I won't say the exact word, but it lacks one of the letters which forms the term "banal". Catch my drift?

Unlike most shows, the performances and even the story take a back seat to the sheer lunacy that unfolds on stage - but that is a good thing. It's clear within the opening minutes that we're not meant to take anything seriously, that we shouldn't question the logic or why this character would behave in that manner. It's like a release, a show where you can forget about all aspects of your everyday life and just sit back and enjoy the ride that Rocky Horror takes you on. It wouldn't be accurate to say that it brings your fantasies to life - I can't imagine everybody watching has dreamed of doing some of the things we see here - but it definitely transports you to another place, almost another universe, where the chains are off and anything goes. So, it all seems really far-fetched, and nothing really makes sense - but the show is all the better for it, because nothing is off-limits. It's so outrageous and unpredictable that you won't be thinking about the plot when it's all said and done, you'll simply be thinking "Wow!" In a nutshell, it's a show that you won't soon forget.

That being said, the performances are very good, especially from Liam Tamne, who throws himself into the role of Frank N Furter with such gusto that one may not be able to separate the performer from the character. Steve Punt does a nice job as the Narrator too: despite infrequent appearances, he provides the one remaining piece of sanity in this OTT environment, and his interaction with the crowd leads to some great back-and-forth banter. It's also funny to see how Brad and Janet's characters, previously the normal, soon-to-be-happy couple who are as sweet as silk, are slowly immersed into the craziness in which they find themselves, and end up succumbing to some of the more - ahem! - tantalising desires of Frank. It's not the way you would normally celebrate an engagement, but I'm sure the characters involved had a good time. And the cast appears to be having a load of fun, too; it's like a pantomime, but with (tons of) sex references.

But it's the audience who have the best time by far, and it's their involvement that makes this an even more unique experience. The usual theatre manner is to listen and watch, laugh if you feel the urge to, clap when it's appropriate, and that's it, really. Here, you can be mistaken for thinking that the audience are hijacking the show at first, but harking back to the panto aspect, the show is designed for the audience to shout the most obscene words at particular points. Obviously, the movie and previous productions of the show have influenced the crowd on what to say and when, but it's mesmerising to see it happen so much, and for the heckles to be so rude, and yet so funny. One example was when one lady wearing very little clothing stretched in a flirtatious manner, which led one attendee to shout "Where've you been all my life?" Don't expect to hear that at the next performance of Wicked (or at most other shows, for that manner).

Other notes: the lighting was excellent, with the colourful spotlights ensuring a range of vibes during particular scenes, and which no doubt contributed to the occasional disco-feel within the audience. The settings were very effective too; you felt that you were in a proper haunted house when we were taken into the castle, and there was a real mad-scientist feel to the laboratory too. (I noticed that the curtain rigs were constructed in such a way that they looked slanted, which I have to assume was the intention.) The show was a little on the short side, coming in at two hours including the intermission, but perhaps it was for the best: the show flew by, and every scene was of consequence, ensuring that no moments overstayed their welcome.

Rocky Horror is definitely a niche show. The strong sexual content certainly won't be to everybody's tastes, and even for those who don't mind a flurry of sexual references, a lot of people may come along and simply wonder what in the world is happening before their eyes, perhaps believing that they've overdone it on the wacky backy (I've always been clean as a whistle, so fortunately I wouldn't have such issues).

That being said, it definitely attracts a particular audience, a cult audience; and that cult audience hangs onto every word and is well into every single aspect of the show, from the key moments to the tiniest details. And there are plenty of laughs to be had, some due to shock value, and although aspects of the story can be hard to follow, it's impossible not to be engaged on some level to the, quite frankly, nuts behaviour of the lead characters. Oh, and the songs are very catchy, as are the associated dance moves, so you should be fully prepared to pull off The Time Warp when you're out in Popworld next weekend (hey, next weekend is Halloween so you could even go out as one of the Rocky Horror characters!).

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a true anomaly: a show which definitely exists in its own parallel universe, but one which provides so much to digest and such a diversity of characters, situations and one-liners that it is one of the most memorable theatre shows that you are likely to see. As an overall production, few evenings at the theatre are more entertaining than The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Just think twice before you decide to come to the theatre rocking a pair of leopard-print Speedos.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

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