Plays and Players
by W Stephen Gilbert
At the Theatre Upstairs,
a sign reads: "The Sloane cinema regrets the inconvenience
caused to patrons during renovations. A modern 3-screen cinema
will open shortly". Not a change of policy, but a little
context for The Rocky Horror Show, Richard O'Brien's gloss on
the legend of Dr. Frankenstein.
I suppose this show
embodies Robert Brustein's gloomy assessment of the fringe as
"not so much innovative as raucous and exhibitionistic".
But at 10:15 at night, the audience- especially me- is not inclined
to care. Rather I would welcome it as near-perfect late night
diversion: hilarious, nostalgic, flattering, spoofy, hectic,
loud and daft. In fact, camp.
The tone is set by
the ushers who welcome us, creeping up in creepy leering masks
and distributing programmes. On stage, an ice cream girl sits
draped in a sheet, the light from her tray picking out her face.It's
all a bit like an animated version of a scene by Edward Keinholz.
The story itself treats of your archetypal wholesome American
couple, Brad Majors and Janet Weiss (Pronounced 'Weiss' as she
insists) who are moved to pledge their troth by the lovely wedding
of Ralph Hapschatt and Betty Munroe (the names are always peaches)
and do so in a monstrous rock-a-ballad that makes Hey Paula
seem like high art.
Stranded by a blow
out in a dark country lane, they spy a lit window (cue for a
song) and find themselves at the temporary residence of Frank-N-Furter,
an itinerant interglactic transexual, attended by a hunchback
and assorted nymphos. Frank-n-furter has created Rocky Horror,
a domestic stud who 'carries the Charles Atlas seal of approval'.
An earlier creation, Eddie, an old-time rocker, emerges from
the freezer to protest, but Frank-n-furter pushes him back down
with his sax. The plot becomes increasingly frenetic, with Frank-n-furter
seducing Janet while passing himself off as Brad (Janet: "Oh,
I was saving myself" Frank-n-furter: "I'm sure you're
not all spent"), and then seducing Brad whilst passing
himself off as Janet. Janet herself, seeing Brad on the job,
flings herself at Rocky. Dr. Everrett Scot (sic) arrives in
his wheelchair to save our heroes but Frank-n-furter's powers
are too much for him. Eddie is melted to death in the freezer.
But then the servants turn nasty and Riff-Raff, the hunchback,
arrives in armour, kills Frank-n-furter and Rocky, and saves
the goodies from the fate of being transformed into a chorus
line in suspenders and high heels.
The panache of Jim
Sharman's production stops you from asking questions and there's
a clutch of extravagantly accurate performances headed by Tim
Curry as the host (ess), part David Bowie, part Joan Crawford,
part Basil Rathbone (but supply your own names) and Christopher
Malcolm whose Brad meets every adversity by squaring his all-American
shoulders and jaw. Jonathan Adams chimes in with an absurd po-faced
narration of non sequitors and leads the singing of Let's do
the Time Warp Again , the best song much the best collection
I've heard in a rock musical. They should release the LP. And
any impresario looking for someone to provide book, music, and
lyrics for a full sized rock show should consider giving Richard
O'Brien a whirl. The Rocky Horror Show, a sort of theatrical/cinematic
equivalent of Sha Na Na, is what Alex in A Clockwork Orange
would call 'real horrorshow'.