Theatre Review: The Rocky Horror Show, The Civic

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Juan Jackson as Frank-N-Furter in 'The Rocky Horror Show'. Photo / Supplied
Juan Jackson as Frank-N-Furter in 'The Rocky Horror Show'. Photo / Supplied

Ambling onstage as the show's narrator, Rocky Horror creator Richard O'Brien was greeted with a spontaneous eruption of applause. He acknowledged the welcome with a typically Kiwi piece of self-effacement - casually announcing that "the little bodgie bastard is back".

But the relaxed, down-to-earth demeanour only underlines the fact that O'Brien is returning home in triumph - riding high on a superb British production of the show that conquered the world and has never really been out of the limelight since its 1973 debut in the 60-seat studio of London's Royal Court Theatre.

Director Christopher Luscombe wisely avoids any attempt to duplicate the iconic images from the movie and his brilliantly inventive staging has a chorus of phantoms artfully manipulating scenery that includes shadow puppets, handheld spotlights, cute cartoon graphics, and a wonderfully low-tech design for the Frankenstein laboratory.

The highly theatrical staging keeps the emphasis firmly on the songs and the first half races by in a 45-minute blast of high-energy showmanship.

The message about liberation coming from the forbidden fruits of hedonistic excess does seem a bit dated in a world where we are at risk of entertaining ourselves to death and gay culture is so triumphantly mainstream. But the show's innocent exuberance is infectious and there is a strong nostalgic appeal in recalling a time when transsexuals were seen as something dangerously subversive.

The highly professional cast all deliver excellent performances and the powerful voices of Juan Jackson as Frank-N-Furter and Alex Rathgeber as Brad lend an operatic quality to the show's big production numbers.

The Kiwi connection is given a powerful boost with Kristian Lavercombe's suitably deranged Riff Raff and there was plenty of humour as the straight-laced characters succumb to the seductive vortex of madness.

Mark Simpson carries off a remarkable piece of character acting as he switches between bad-boy rocker Eddie and the indomitable Dr Scott.

The clever song lyrics were occasional swamped as an over-amplified band slipped into bombastic 70s stadium rock but the musicians redeemed themselves with the foot-stomping rhythms of basic rock'n'roll - most notably when O'Brien kicked out the familiar guitar riff in the finale version of Time Warp.

The Rocky Horror Show is playing at the Civic until November 27.

- NZ Herald

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