Before it was a The Rocky Horror Picture Show of 1975, Rocky Horror Show was already a cult classic. It was at once a humorous tribute to science fiction and B grade horror movies and a culturally iconic examination of empowerment and fluid-sexuality. The adults-only musical written by Richard O’Brien tells the story of conservative newly-engaged couple – Brad and Janet – who flee from a storm into the home of a mad transvestite scientist from transsexual Transylvania. Dr Frank-N-Furter is unveiling his new creation, a “Frankenstein” sort of monster in form of a fully grown, physically perfect muscle man named Rocky, complete ‘with blond hair and a tan’.
A whirlwind Act One, where the best songs dwell, is full of introductions as the apprehensive and uneasy couple Time Warp their way into the unfamiliar world of mayhem and even murder. After intermission, things get down and dirty and very naughty as the fishnet-stocking-wearing scientist (Adam Rennie) introduces the oblivious Brad (Rob Mallett) and ever-so-sweet Janet (Michelle Smitheram) to a world of fluid sexuality and excessive indulgence, starting with a very cheeky Act Two opener bed scene.
Any Frank-N-Furter is going to suffer the burden of comparisons to Tim Curry’s career-defining role. Stepping into the heels after Craig McLachlan’s exit, Rennie is no exception. Yes, he’s glam-rock-star like, but he’s also youthful, fun and flirty. He brings a lot of humour to the role in his energetic performance. Rennie makes the part very much his own in blend of menace, vulnerability, desire, scorn and impeccable comic timing. Also outstanding is Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff, reprising his 2014 role as the hunchbacked handyman and live-in butler. From the moment of his first at-window appearance in “There’s a Light” his Riff Raff never wanes from high-octane, despite him having well over a thousand performances of the show across Australia, New Zealand and Asia under his belt.
Amanda Harrison is similarly strong in the dual roles of the initial Usherette who introduces the night’s ‘film’ in tribute to and send-up of the B-movies and serials parodied in the show itself, and mainly as maid Magenta. Her presence is exuberant. Also especially wonderful to watch is Rob Mallett as the mild-mannered Brad, detailed in his performance down the most minor of mannerisms. And as the show’s suave narrator, Cameron Daddo is most deserving of his applause on entry. His interaction with the audience is terrific, especially as he digresses in response to the show’s trademark audience participation and their shout-outs of the ‘say it, say it…’ sort.
Musically, “Time Warp” and “Sweet Transvestite” are expected highlights. Smitheram and Mallett are both excellent in their solo numbers “Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me” and “Once in a While”. But it’s Rennie’s swan song “I’m Going Home” that resonates the most as, in contrast to the spirited strutting of his earlier songs, he sings with soulful poignancy to explain his actions.
Really, Rocky Horror Show is bigger than any one performer, which is affirmed by the excellence of this ensemble who seem to be having a great time together on stage. Their animated choreography, in “Eddie” for example, is all kinds of camp fun. Indeed, this show has naughtiness and adult amusement in abundance. Its strange but pleasurable journey is fast-paced and faithful to the original, making for a highly-entertaining night of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery – only not for all the family.
Venue: Concert Hall, QPAC, Brisbane
Dates: 18 January – 11 February 2018
For more of Meredith Walker’s writings on theatre, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- The Rocky Horror Show (Her Majesty’s) – theatre review
- Kinky Boots (QPAC) – theatre review
- Jersey Boys (QPAC) – theatre review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television