Thursday, September 5, 2013

Best Riff Raff award for Wild’s production of Rocky

WHEN I noticed that one of the rather lovely usherettes on our side of the theatre wasn’t really a girl, I knew it was only a matter of time before the Very Grumpy Old Man a few rows down might get a surprise. I wasn’t wrong, and the unintentionally hilarious results of his discovery resulted in the first of many laughs this evening. The Rocky Horror Show at Cape Town’s The Fugard Theatre was off to a fabulous start.

Me and Rocky go back a long way. For some kids of my generation (we’re talking pre-internet era here, folks) it was the Grease or Dirty Dancing soundtrack. For me it was Rocky. On my piano, I tried to play the musical score which, thanks to an older sibling, lurked inside the piano stool. A friend of mine had a cassette tape of the soundtrack, which we listened to until it was stretched to hell and gone – but there was no watching the film, since it was banned. And oh hell no, don’t even consider the stage production, me lovelies. Getting to know Rocky was like not having all the pieces of the puzzle, enigmatic.

I had no idea what the story was about, but my 12-year-old self sang along to Science Fiction/Double Feature with a strange kind of wistfulness. There was something strangely exotic and subversive about this forbidden show that appealed to this sheltered little Afrikaans girl, and I had no idea why I loved it so much. Of course I gobbled it up when the film was finally on telly, but it’s on stage that Rocky comes alive.

I first saw Rocky at the tender age of 13. It was my first year of high school. I did not expect, in the middle of the Cape winter, to see a young man attend theatre in nothing else but gold-sprayed sneakers, spray-on tan and a shiny gold Speedo. Or his friends all dressed in a mish-mash of costumes inspired by the show. Or the level of audience participation. My mom had always told me to sit still and not say a word in the theatre. Evidently she was wrong.

I was ready for the hooliganism the next time I saw the show in the late 1990s. For once we were part of the madness, dressed to the nines in top hats and tails, ghastly face paint and crazy grins. And oh boy did we do the Time Warp. The old fogies must’ve had conniption fits.

Now, in my mid-30s, I’m a veteran of not one but four Rocky stage productions, and each one has brought fresh magic to this musical. I can with great authority offer a standing ovation to director Matthew Wild and his cast and creative team. This iconic show and film has crept into the hearts of so many, and fans will have many expectations, so it’s a tricky thing if you’re going to add a few flourishes to put your personal stamp on a production.

But there is no doubt in my mind that Wild has succeeded. Overall he’s stayed true to the Rocky we know and adore. Everything, from the seamless blend and interchange between the projected animations and the set, to the band’s tight performance and the best choreography I’ve seen for this show, has been a treat.

An imposing Brendan van Rhyn as Frank-N-Furter sports a Grace Jones-style hairdo and totally steals the show. As he should. How he manages in those killer heels I don’t know. And his voice. Just incredible. My award for “Best Riff Raff Ever” goes to Andrew Laubscher. Well done, mate. You were utterly creeptastic and it gave me wicked thrills. Shaun Smit as Rocky was not quite what I expected, since previous incarnations I’ve seen had always been rather big, strapping lads – but hey, it made a change and he was rather adorable. I always have a soft spot for Columbia, and Dominique Maher puts her heart and soul into this energetic character. Little spots of South African accents creeping out here and there made me smile.

A big part of what makes Rocky such a thrill is the level of audience participation. This production isn’t about passively sitting in the seat. It’s about using your audience participation pack (which you can buy upon arrival) and throwing the confetti, brandishing glowsticks, snapping on gloves and tooting on those party blowers. It’s about laughing out loud and singing along to old favourites. Hell, it’s about messing around with Frank-N-Furter’s “anticipa… tion”. Essentially, this is a show about letting your hair down and revelling in the camp, pulpy glory that is The Rocky Horror Show.

As they say, “Don’t dream it, be it.” And that’s probably why I love the show so much, and I hope that if I make it to my seventies, I’ll still be doing the Time Warp and behaving like a hooligan the moment the usherettes start waving their torches before the show starts.

The Rocky Horror is currently running at The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town (Until October 29, 2013). Please note, there’s an age restriction of 16 on this show.

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