Rocky Horror in Melbourne

It’s 41 years since Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show first broke out of the lab and started blazing a glittery trail of mischief across the planet Earth. Since then, it has overrun its own humble beginnings as a cult icon and become somewhat of an institution. But after so long, after so many pairs of torn fishnet thigh-highs, studded leather corsets and anticipatory pauses, do we still get the same shivers from doing the Time Warp again? Would the show retain enough of the danger and shock value that fuelled its original appeal, or will it all have become normalised – its alternative edge undermined by the familiarity of its own cultural phenomenon?

Rocky Horror Show. Photo by Brian Geach
Rocky Horror Show. Photo by Brian Geach

Somehow, against all odds, the creature still has some life left yet, as Rocky Horror Show returns to Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre for the second season in as many years.

Craig McLachlan hijacks the show as the salacious Dr Furter, skipping about the stage and shamelessly showering the audience with smut and a mischievous glee that is simply delicious. His somewhat glamorous Frank is certainly more ‘glitter’ than some of the grittier, more dangerous incarnations that have come before, but with a wicked fusion of party clown and stripper, he certainly manages to titillate and delight.

Other standout performances abound in Frank’s entourage of party-shop-Gothic misfits. In particular Kristian Lavercombe’s shrill vocals and juggernaut physical energy as the “helpful handyman” Riff-Raff is simply spellbinding, and Angelique Cassimatis lends a refreshing tenderness to the otherwise manic energy of Columbia, a young woman injured by heartache, yet somehow incapable of quitting her brutal ex.

The chemistry between Stephen May and Amy Lehpamer as the show’s unsuspecting heroic centrepieces Brad and Janet is limited. From the opening scenes both characters seem far too comfortable and lack much of the high-strung awkwardness necessary to lend meaning to their later transformations.

Bert Newton is still alive and has fun Bert Newtoning around the stage as Bert Newton, without much further effort to otherwise characterise his sadly lack-lustre Narrator.

The design of the show is gorgeously camp, furnished with 1970s era plush pastels and a thoroughly unthreatening Hamer Horror castle, all quite literally framed as a tribute to the cheap and tacky film sets of a bygone Hollywood era.

For the most part, the relatively small playing space is utilised to great effect. McLachlan’s reckless destruction of the fourth wall and a few clever lighting tricks help to envelope the audience and implicate them in the events onstage.

The choreography is tight and punchy, save for a few chase sequences that, while potentially striving for self-aware silliness, ultimately fall short and end up coming off as a little clumsy.

Overall though, this is high-camp frivolity at it’s campest; a show laden with wonderfully ham-fisted performances, shameless double-entendre and music that still manages to induce pelvic thrusts wherever it is heard. The Rocky Horror Show ultimately serves to celebrate itself, the culture of which it was born and that which it has itself created.

MELBOURNE SHOW NEWS: Richard O’Brien is performing as the Narrator in some shows.

Anne-Marie Peard spoke to Richard O’Brien when he was in Melbourne last year.

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