Even if you haven’t seen the 1975 movie, you undoubtedly would’ve heard songs from the cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But did you know that the production is actually an adaptation of a play that made it’s debut in a tiny upstairs theatre in London 2 years before the film? I recently got to see the stage show in South Africa and wanted to share my thoughts.
Firstly, this is not the first time the Rocky Horror Show has been in South Africa but it is certainly the first time it has been performed on a stage as big as The Teatro at Montecasino. The scale of the production compared to previous performances is definitely noticeable from the sets to the energy.
What I Liked
Audience Partici… pation
What has been a tradition for almost the length of the play’s existence is involvement from the audience. People come dressed up as characters from the play or use the opportunity to get creative with gender-bending outfits. There is a media wall in the foyer that you can take your picture with, and, on most nights, you can even take photos with some of the cast after the show! While makeup, fishnet stockings, and corsets aren’t my preferred attire, it’s fun to see people put in the effort, which further enhances the overall experience.
What’s more, is the audience is encouraged to engage with the cast at certain parts. After well-known lines of dialogue from Brad, Janet, Frank N. Furter, and the narrator, in particular, spectators are urged to shout out different comments. These interactions result in cheeky remarks from the cast and an eruption of laughter from the audience. The front few rows are also given props to use at certain points, making it even more inclusive for all as the scenes spill from the stage into the audience.
👠 See how some people dressed up on Instagram: #RockyHorrorSA
The Sets and Costumes
The sets used on the South African stage don’t just look like the ones you might have seen in the UK; they’re the actual sets! While there aren’t many scene changes, the stage seamlessly transforms to transport the audience through the story. Props, lighting and clever mechanics allow for quick transitions between scenes. The most striking feature is a film strip across the top of the stage. Hugh Durrant, the Set Designer’s thinking behind this was clever. You can find out exactly what the meaning behind the set design was when you buy a program. I can’t give all the secrets away. 😉
Sue Blane’s costumes are, in her words, “extraordinary”. They have played a significant part in making Rocky Horror a cult classic. Her designs are iconic and, as mentioned earlier, have inspired audiences around the world to dress up when attending the show. While the costumes in the film are more realistic, the wardrobe on the stage show has a lot more pizzazz, which adds to the energy of the experience.
The Rocky Horror Show is full of well-known songs that will have young and old bobbing along. The live orchestra is a treat and is supplemented with the lively choreography and incredible vocal talent of the cast. You’ll find yourself fighting the urge to sing along or jump up and dance to the music but don’t fear. At the end of the show, you’ll be invited to join in and don’t dream it, be it.
Pretty much all the characters in The Rocky Horror Show are iconic but some characters stand out more than others. What a pleasant surprise it was to have Riff Raff portrayed true to the original. From the second we’re introduced to him in There’s a Light, it’s unquestionably Riff Raff and not some version of him. The character is played by Kristian Lavercombe who has just completed the UK Tour of Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show where he notched up a staggering 1,600 performances! Not only is this a record for an actor playing this role the most, but it also marks the record any actor has performed in Rocky Horror since it’s conception.
In true gender-bending Rocky Horror fashion, the narrator, who is typically portrayed by a male, is played by Kate Normington, in the South African production. Kate has made a name for herself doing numerous productions on and off-screen, but I’ve really been impressed in more recent years. In Into the Woods, Normington stole the show with her acting and singing abilities. Now, in Rocky Horror, we’re reminded of her skillful comical chops. While fans might be jarred at the first sight of a female narrator, this quickly turns to delight as Normington’s portrayal just fits perfectly. Between you and me, hers was my favourite performance.
Craig Urbani’s performance is exceptional. Over the years, he’s shown that he is a chameleon when it comes to acting. He is an extremely talented performer, with the looks, voice, and talent to shapeshift into any role thrown his way. Frank N. Furter is no exception and Urbani fully commits to the role. What I enjoyed the most about his performance wasn’t the over the top theatrics but the subtleties of Urbani’s acting. Small gestures and eye movements add another layer of comedy that demonstrates why he is a masterful performer.
What I Didn’t Like So Much
Frank N. Furter
Craig Urbani is undoubtedly a talented performer, however, Frank N. Furter felt cheesy. In the film and in other runs of this show I’ve seen on stage, Frank N. Furter was sultry and powerful while still being funny. In this play, Frank N. Furter came across more frivolous and silly.
After some investigation, though, I discovered that this is how the play is typically directed. The South African rendition cannot then be critiqued too harshly as The Rocky Horror Show is a franchise that must follow a certain formula. However, writing from the perspective of the audience who largely only have the film as a frame of reference, the play felt overly comical, almost like a spoof of The Rocky Horror Show, which may very well have been the intention.
Is the South African tour of The Rocky Horror Show worth seeing? Yes. There is no question that the production is world-class. It’s fun and energetic and, as the advertising says, the ultimate party show. So, don’t miss out!
The show is on at the Teatro at Montecasino from 17 January until 1 March 2020. Book your tickets today at Computicket.