After a long pandemic-enforced absence – during which madness threatened to take its toll, because time was anything but fleeting – it seems appropriate that my return to the glorious world of musical theatre was to the most infectious show of them all.
As a big fan of the film and the music, seeing Rocky Horror live has been on my bucket list for ages, as I’ve never had a good opportunity to go before. So when an audio described performance was announced by Sadler’s Wells as part of the current Rocky Horror tour, I was only too eager to jump to the left… I mean, at the chance… to lose my Rocky Horror virginity. So I bought myself a ticket, knowing that it was an afternoon out I was going to remember. For how long? For a very long time!
The current stage version of Rocky Horror will be recognisable to anyone who saw the 40th anniversary tour in 2015-16, including the live Gala performance that was shown in cinemas and on TV (the latter being where I watched it). It was never released on DVD, sadly, but you can see it on Youtube. And one of the performances from this recent run at the Peacock Theatre was also live screened in cinemas (not on the day I went).
So the basic structure, script, set, costumes, etc have remained largely the same in many respects. But there have also been various updates and tweaks of course, and the new cast make it their own, so it still feels fresh and unique.
Ore Oduba, winner of Strictly Come Dancing, is the star billing as Brad, while Haley Flaherty plays Janet, Stephen Webb plays Frank N. Furter, and Kristian Lavercombe plays Riff Raff. They all inhabit their roles brilliantly, as does every member of the cast. All the key characters get their moments to shine, through song and dance as well as acting, and all of their performances are powerful and fun, and also emotional where it counts. And everything has been expertly directed by Christopher Luscombe.
The choreography and arrangements by the backing band are also wonderful, as are the costumes and set design. So it’s a real treat for the eyes and ears, a sensational and sexy spectacle for sure, as it’s meant to be. If you’re already a Rocky Horror fan, then you know what you’re going to get and won’t be disappointed. And if you’re not too familiar with it – such as the girl next to me, who had only seen the heavily sanitised Glee version and a few little clips from the film – it’s an entertaining eye-opener. It is weird and a bit rude, sure, but it’s all done in a fun and harmless way without taking itself at all seriously.
The audio description worked very well too. I had a decent centrally-positioned view, so I was able to look closer at some of the action through my monocular when I wanted to, but the audio description ensured I could keep that to a minimum, and just sit back and enjoy the show. So I was kept informed about the dance moves, costume changes, body language, use of props and set pieces, and so on. Even while the songs were being performed, I was able to turn it up loud enough to hear what was being said, which isn’t always that easy to do with AD performances. The first headset I was given wasn’t picking up the right channel, but the lady looking after me quickly replaced it with a working unit, so I was all set up in good time before the show started.
There was no touch tour this time though, which was a shame given the variety of outfits they wear and the wonderful sets, but also understandable in the current climate. Some shows are offering tours for AD performances and some aren’t. But having good audio description and being able to use my monocular, in addition to the fact that I already have a lot of familiarity with Rocky Horror, meant it wasn’t a problem in this instance. I hope they’ll be able to offer tours for performances in the future though.
And talking of sexy costumes, before you ask – no, I didn’t get dressed up for it! If I knew a die-hard Rocky Horror fan who was keen to help me with that kind of thing and go to a show with me, I’d certainly be game for it. But here I was dressed normally, which is probably best for a first time anyway. As were most other people to be honest. As the audio describer explained while waiting for the show to start, a few people had dressed up, but it was a very tame Sunday afternoon compared to the previous, more raucous performance on Saturday night, which isn’t really surprising.
And some of us in the audience did get involved in other ways. After all, audience participation is a huge part of Rocky Horror, with many callback lines that have been established over the years, making the audience a character of its own. It’s one of the main reasons that Rocky Horror is so special and unique. It is by no means essential to join in with it, and if you don’t know the callback lines then it doesn’t matter – a lot of the laughs come from hearing other people call out. But at a bare minimum, Brad Majors and Janet Weiss are called “asshole” and “slut” respectively when you hear their full names. And it’s normal to ask the Narrator to “describe your balls” when he mentions the dark storm clouds towards which Brad and Janet were driving.
So, again because it was a Sunday afternoon, there weren’t a huge number of people shouting out. But that was a good thing, because you could clearly understand the people who were getting involved, without too many voices competing with each other, so they pretty much always got the laughs they deserved. And nobody was being disruptive and attention-seeking by calling out too much or making up stupid remarks. Every participant had the correct lines in mind for the right moments – myself included, as I gladly got vocally involved on several occasions, something I’d been really looking forward to! It did help that there were clearly some Rocky veterans in the crowd though, who were straight in with their callback lines, as that helped the rest of us to feel at ease with taking part too.
And the Narrator was very good, making the most of his segments by responding to pretty much all the callbacks with jokes of his own, even on a few occasions making topical digs at people like Prince Andrew (about Pizza Express), John Barrowman (about the flashing allegations) and Boris Johnson (making a naughty reference to the Muppets). And later in the show he was able to make further references to earlier heckles – making callbacks to callbacks, as it were. So rather than just reading from the script, he really made it feel interactive.
The other cast members also acknowledged the audience frequently – not deviating from the script, but giving us knowing looks and grins, and delivering lines in a way that sounded like replies to us. There was no fourth wall here, we were acknowledged and encouraged to feel part of it. So there was a great atmosphere.
And of course I did The Time Warp during the encore with everyone else. How could I not? A few people did get up to dance along when it was performed during the first act as well – which is perfectly acceptable and common for Rocky Horror. But thankfully the person in front of me didn’t, so I was able to get a good view of the cast performing it on stage, coupled with the audio description.
As for safety in these uncertain times, we didn’t have to show any proof of vaccinations or negative tests, but nobody with Covid symptoms would have been allowed in anyway. Face masks weren’t mandatory either, but they were strongly encouraged and recommended by the theatre in their emails, and all members of staff were wearing them. I wore a mask throughout the performance, which didn’t stop me singing along and calling out, and didn’t cause me any problems. The guy on my left wasn’t wearing one, while the girl on my right was, but most people I saw were wearing them.
And the auditorium as a whole seemed fairly full. There were a few empty seats I think, but it didn’t sound like a reduced audience at all, it felt like a full house with everyone applauding and cheering. So it had all the atmosphere that I love from being at a lively theatre show. There were also other measures including the ability to pre-order interval drinks from the bar, but I didn’t bother doing that. And we were assured that the theatre had been thoroughly cleaned of course. I don’t know how good their ventilation is, but it didn’t feel stuffy in there.
So I felt as safe as it was possible to be, I think the theatre did a great job looking after us within the rules currently imposed upon them. It’s a difficult adjustment that these venues have had to make, keeping everyone safe while not making things too restrictive or uncomfortable. But I felt very much at ease, I think they’ve got a good balance. On top of that I’m also double-jabbed, as is my elderly mother back at home, and we both accept the inherent risks of me being in a crowded room like this. And, ultimately, I want to be back at the theatre so I can support the industry and enjoy it in person once again. I can’t stay shut away forever.
As I write this, it is now exactly a week since I attended that performance. I haven’t had any illness since then, and I don’t appear to have passed anything on to my mother either. So, touch wood, it doesn’t look like I’ve picked up anything from the show or my use of buses and Tube trains on the day. Or if I did catch anything, my body’s dealt with it without us knowing.
And finally, I’ve also bought some of the merchandise, including a few items I got on the day (provided in a very flimsy paper bag that quickly ripped even with careful handling), and a bit more online from the Theatre Shop.
So I’ve got 2 books, both of which contain lots of cool photos from performances of the show. The 2021/22 tour brochure (from which the photos above have been taken) includes a rehearsal diary from Kristian Lavercombe (Riff Raff), where it’s amazing to learn just how much he’s been involved with Rocky Horror over the past decade, and it’s really interesting to get an insight into just how much is involved in making the show happen, under the direction of Christopher Luscombe. There’s also a nice Q&A with Stephen Webb (Frank N. Furter), photos from the rehearsals as well as the actual show, and a few pages with biographies for all the cast and crew members, giving everyone the credit they duly deserve.
Meanwhile the 40th anniversary picture book (from which I included some photos in my earlier post about the film), in addition to lots of performance photos, has behind-the-scenes production images and some photos of the fans dressed up as well. Plus it contains a very useful glossary explaining some of the references used in the show (e.g. Dana Andrews, Charles Atlas, Don’t Dream It, Hot Patootie, Claude Rains, Steve Reeves, Lili St Cyr, Fay Wray, etc). And the inner pages from the front and back covers are somewhat see-through with a torn fishnet stocking design, which is a nice touch.
And then I also got 3 t-shirts, each in black, with the slogans “Creature Of The Night” (which apparently glows in the dark but I haven’t tested that yet), “Don’t Dream It, Be It” & “I’m A Wild And Untamed Thing”, which all fit nicely and look very cool.
So, all in all, I’m really happy with how my first Rocky Horror experience went. It was such a relief and a joy to be back in a big auditorium, to take an active part in a show that I’ve been longing to see for many years. And it certainly won’t be the last time I go to see Rocky Horror, that’s for sure!