Review by Suzanne Tate
Unless they were very young, or had been living under a rock, it’s safe to say that the performance of the 50th anniversary production of Rocky Horror Show was a trip down memory lane for most of the audience. The over-the-top, high-energy performance that is Rocky Horror never disappoints, and the current Melbourne show is no exception.
The role of Frank N Furter was played by ‘local boy’ Jason Donovan. Donovan may be best known in Australia for his role as Scott in Neighbours, a part that seems as far away from Frank N Further as it is possible to get. However, he has played this iconic role before, during the 25th Anniversary production, which along with his extensive career in live theatre and as a singer leave him extremely well prepared to once more don Frank’s corset, fishnets and high heels here in his hometown of Melbourne. Vocally, Donovan did an outstanding job, demonstrating power and versatility. He also excelled in showing the manic, unhinged side of Frank’s personality, holding nothing back. It was great to see that none of the characters were carbon copies of the well-known movie versions. They all brought their own spin to the characters, with Donovan being no exception. However, it is very hard to push those familiar characterisations from your mind, with Tim Curry being very hard to compete with, and I found Donovan’s portrayal lacking just a bit of the fun, sassy attitude that makes this character so well-loved.
The entire cast was impressive vocally, with Deidre Khoo’s Janet and Stellar Perry’s Magenta/Usherette particularly standing out. Vocally, the cast could not be faulted – it was a truly impressive musical performance! Ethan Jones’ Brad, Henry Rollo as Riff Raff, Loredo Malcolm as Rocky, Darcey Eagle as Columbia and Ellis Dolan as Eddie/Dr Scott all presented extremely accomplished musical numbers and recognisable but fresh incarnations of their characters.
My only disappointment in relation to casting was with Myf Warhurst’s performance as the Narrator. Most well known as a broadcaster and presenter, her lack of acting experience was evident in her somewhat flat portrayal of the Narrator. Her best moments were unscripted responses to the heckling from the audience, an expected part of Rocky Horror Show which her extensive media experience enabled her to respond to naturally, with humour and warmth (although her lack of acting professionalism showed when an audience response caught her unawares and she broke, unable to resist laughing). During the scripted sections however, her voice held little inflection or emotion to add to the drama of the story, something which is usually a large part of the role of Narrator.
The show is visually stunning, with colourful, eye catching sets and dramatic costumes. The costume designs, by Sue Blane, support the character development of each role and help tell the story, such as Riff Raff’s transition from servant to Commander, and the vast changes that occur in the character of Janet. The entire cast even has a separate costume for the curtain call and encore, tying them together as a cohesive unit with red highlights in every outfit.
The set was cleverly designed for transition between scenes, from light scrim that floated effortlessly away, to the colourful cartoonlike sets, such as the car and external view of the castle, sets that rotated or rolled away to change location, and then the layers of more substantial sets that made up Frank’s castle. An interesting set piece that didn’t seem to visually fit with the theme was an elevated balcony above the main stage that represented a length of film negative, perhaps paying homage to the longevity that has stemmed from the cult success of the 1975 film, as well as the opening and closing numbers by the usherette that allude to story as part of the “late night science fiction double feature”.
On opening night there was a vocal but small percentage of the audience that were brave enough to engage in the usual heckling and banter that is associated with a viewing of the Rocky Horror movie. Reading Director Christopher Luscombe’s reflection in the programme, it is clear that such audience participation, if respectful, is welcomed at the live performance’s also, so feel free to join in – just leave the water pistols, rice and toast at home! And during the encore – definitely jump up and do the timewarp to end the night on a nostalgic high!
The Rocky Horror Show is now playing at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre https://rockyhorror.com.au/