'The Rocky Horror Show' back on the SA stage
“It’s just a jump to the left/ And then a step to the right ...” The lyrics and tune from The Time Warp, arguably the most popular song from Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show, are enough to get even the most hesitant audience members tapping their feet, perhaps even dancing in stilettos and fishnet stockings too — gents and ladies alike.
Audiences around the world still can’t get enough of the experience almost 50 years after the premiere of the 1973 stage production and the subsequent cult film. And this stage musical version is no different.
It’s got a lot to do with the cast. The entire two-hour production is so captivating it feels like it’s over before it’s begun, leaving the audience gasping for more. The performances are engaging and believable, the choreography is tight and the lighting and sets are dynamic.
The latest local version of Rocky Horror, presented by Pieter Toerien and Howard Panter, is arguably the best we’ve seen in SA. We chatted to Craig Urbani (Dr Frank N Furter), Kate Normington (the narrator), Didintle Khunou (Janet, opposite Anthony Downing as Brad) and Kristian Lavercombe (Riff Raff) to find out more about their experience.
Surprisingly perhaps, the creative team abroad had never heard of Urbani, despite a successful international career, so he had to audition like everyone else. “And I was happy to do so,” he says. “I am pretty much in love with all aspects of this character. The make-up, the heels, the outrageousness and the comedy all appeal to me hugely. I still have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself that I’m actually doing it for real in a brilliant production.”
Urbani says the role is challenging physically and vocally. “It’s demanding in that there are expectations of the actor to find his own way of playing this part while still paying homage to the immortal Tim Curry version.”
Rocky Horror “virgins” be warned. There’s a script for you, too, so don’t be alarmed when your neighbour unexpectedly starts shouting at the characters on stage. Google the call-outs if you really want to immerse yourself in the experience and look up the dress code while you’re at it. Think glam rock (sequins, feather boas, corsets and garters) or the more conservative “Brad and Janet” look.
Normington auditioned specifically for the role as the narrator, one that has traditionally been played by a man. “I wasn’t sure myself what they initially wanted but after reading and talking it through with the director, he made it clear that it was a simple interpretation of an academic, nonpartisan, observing the action with curiosity, all wrapped up in an RP (received pronunciation) accent,” she says.
In the UK, audience members shout out constantly. There is usually an actual script for them, but in SA audiences are a lot more restrained. The narrator is allowed to respond. “I’ve had a couple of fun moments, ” says Normington.
Khunou and Downing as Janet and Brad are a great match and their chemistry translates well on stage. And when it comes to her interaction with Rocky, played by Jarryd Nurden, Khunou produces the best onstage orgasm I’ve ever seen. She laughs when I comment on it.
“It’s my favourite scene. I have so much fun doing it. Rocky Horror is funny and entertaining but it is also rooted in truth. The audience experience the story through Brad and Janet’s eyes, so it makes sense to portray them in a manner that makes them relatable and real.”
Lavercombe has performed in Rocky Horror more than 1,700 times — more than anyone in the show’s 47-year history. He’s never come close to being bored, or even thought about it for that matter. “When I’m preparing to go on stage, and when I’m on stage, I’m always operating with reasonably high levels of adrenaline.
“I still feel the same now as when I first performed the role nearly 10 years ago. I also love the job and I’m a huge fan of the show and its audiences — they have easily kept me entertained along the way.
“Things also change with different casts. I’ve performed with at least 10 Frank N Furters over the years and they are all so different that you have to discover new things with the new actor. Attempting to do a cookie-cutter performance with a new cast just doesn’t work.”
The creative team behind the show is equally brilliant. It is directed by Christopher Luscombe and choreographed by Nathan M Wright. The set is designed by Hugh Durrant, music arranged by Richard Hartley, lighting designed by Nick Richings and costumes by Sue Blane. If you want to start the new year on a high note, make a point of booking for this memorable “alternative pantomime”. Let the madness take control.
• The show runs at the Teatro, Montecasino from January 17 to March 1