By Michael Billington
From the Guardian
has become today's avant-garde. Anything way-in in the thirties
seems way-out in the seventies. And for proof you need only
turn to Richard O'Brien's musical fantasy "The Rocky Horror
Show" at the Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, which is saturated
in old celluloid: in particular Karloff's "Frankenstein"
and stair-creaking creepies like "The Old Dark House".
Even the theatre seats have the faded plush of past odeons,
and you are piloted towards them by masked ushers.
Normally I find camp
exploitations of old movies highly resistable because they imply
a wholly unjustified feeling of cultural superiority. But this
show won me over entirely. It achieves the rare feat of being
witty and erotic at the same time. Dealing with a couple of
virginal innocents who find themselves trapped in a crazy-house
run by a trans-sexual doctor, it accurately spoofs the strip-bubble
classics of James Whale ("We'll pull out our aces when
the time is right" says the spectacled hero cornered by
lowering transvestite monsters) And the various sexual permutations
and combinations, suggested by coupling silhouettes, have a
gaudy mathematical intricacy.
Unlike Sam Shepard
(to whom he owes much) O'Brien never suggests his blend of Sci-Fi
and more iconography has any very serious purpose: "Don't
dream it, be it" is the closest he gets to a theme. But,
in compensation, he bounces the action along on a series of
springy rock numbers and Jim Sharman's audience-enveloping production
is a deft piece of Pop-Artaud. Tim Curry also gives a garishly
Bowie-esque performance as the ambi-sextrous doctor, but for
me the actor of the evening was Jonathan Adams as the Narrator:
a bulky, heavy jowled Kissinger-like figure who enters into
the rock numbers with the stately aplomb of a dowager duchess
doing a strip.