[4 May 2008]
When I was about ten or eleven, I was found hanging around my room wearing a set of headphones and singing along to “Sweet Transvestite”. I had no idea what a transvestite was, nor any defined notions about sexuality. All I knew was that I had this tape of The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, and that it just rocked. Precisely because of this undue influence, it is perhaps natural that I would try to imbue the show with an importance that it can’t possibly live up to. Nonetheless, and with a straight face, I state that The Rocky Horror Show is the modern equivalent of Shakespeare.
After seeing the Star Theatre production, I related this new theory to a friend of mine who is months away from becoming a doctor of English literature. She laughed. “But hear me out,” I pleaded, and proceeded to explain exactly what I meant. I believe that Rocky Horror is a modern tragedy, one that parallels and modernizes the traditional concerns of tragic drama, and one that is no less important for its levity and popularity. Let’s not forget that Shakespeare was the reality TV of ye olden times.
And like most reality TV shows, Rocky Horror is fueled by pure sex. Dr Frank-N-Furter is a brilliant, sexually liberated mad scientist who screws his way through most of the cast. It’s only when his creation, Rocky, has the same idea that Frank’s sexual double standards are uncovered and his world comes crashing down around him. A brilliant man/transvestite brought down by jealousy and hypocrisy? Reeks of Othello to me, except that Cassio ends up wearing fishnets and Desdemona is a muscle-bound Frankenstein.
Some might think that this is going too far, but what else than this gesture to universal values could explain the incredible appeal of such an odd, subversive piece of theatre as Rocky Horror? People who use the word “gay” as a catch-all insult seem to have no problem watching and singing along with a bisexual transvestite scientist and his crew of willing victims, most of whom hail from a planet called Transsexual.
But enough of all this theory; we came for the show. And what a show it was. Yes, Rocky has been done to death in countless productions ceaselessly rolling around the globe, but this one managed to strike new ground while remaining true to the spirit of the show. Things started well with Tamsin Carroll carrying the opening alone as the Usherette, but it was when Paul Capsis appeared as Riff Raff and belted out his interlude during “Over at the Frankenstein Place” that you knew this was going to be something special.
Much as the entrance of Tim Curry in his outrageous tranny outfit defines the film version, the roof lifted off the theatre when iOTA emerged in full space-bitch garb as Frank. I feel sorry for anyone who takes on this role in the wake of Curry’s definitive performance, but iOTA did a remarkable job of making the role his own, neither aping Curry’s style nor alienating himself from the history of the character. He made the entire audience shiver with the longest-held antici…...pation that I’ve ever seen—and his version of “I’m Going Home” may well surpass Curry’s, though some will call such a declaration blasphemy.
So much of this show rests on its aesthetic, and as such, no expense has been spared in the mounting of this production. The set design was innovative yet functional, and the costume design was outrageously extravagant, drawing from modern fashion templates as well as the show’s history. The Phantoms who make up the show’s extras came across like punk and emo demons, complementing the major characters as well as providing an explanation for certain plot points that could have seemed terribly clichéd: no longer does Brad and Janet’s tire just happen to burst on a stormy night in convenient proximity to the narrative’s setting; in this production it is one of the Phantoms who deliberately sabotages the unlucky couple.
The only weak links in this otherwise rock-solid production were Simon Farrow as Rocky, who certainly looked the part but who possesses a voice so stereotypically “Aussie” that it made you want to migrate to New Zealand; and John Waters as the Narrator, who seemed to be phoning in the performance on the night we attended.
But nothing could really tarnish this show for me. I went in silently cringing, with a mental list of points from the film to which I would be comparing this production, but by the end of the show I found myself asking “Tim who?” With productions this good, it’s no surprise the paying public are so willing to do the Time Warp again and again and again.