Madness takes control


SIZZLING: Craig Urbani is the deliciously transsexual Frank n Furter. Photograph by Jesse Kramer.

IT WAS A show that posed cheeky questions at well-established values, blew smoke in the face of modesty and even cocked a snoot at narrative flow. And this was in 1973, when the Rocky Horror Show first saw light of day. This madcap tale of forbidden pleasures and things that give goosebumps in the night is easily one of popular culture’s most fulsome of cult experiences, from the dress code down to the improvised and traditional script for audience heckling. And this stage production of the work, tweaked and rearranged for the 20s is simply everything.

From the sets to the sound, the characterisations to the sense of antici … pation, the work is polished and funny, speaking as much of the crazy tale of ghosts and Nazis, transsexuals and aliens as it does about spoofing film culture of the 1950s. With Kate Normington in the role of the narrator, who gives as good as she gets, and Craig Urbani as the deliciously sexual Frank n Furter, it’s a truly flawless work, whipped up to a pitch with nostalgia.

And once you’ve jumped to the left, stepped to the right, put your hands on your hips and pulled your knees in tight, and then done a pelvic thrust until it drives you insane, the time warp isn’t all you get out of this beautiful production. It’s a message that really doesn’t get old: amid all the heckling and cynicism, the jabs at virginity and maudlin preciousness, this is a work as potent as it gets about self-belief.

The Rocky Horror Show has been staged several times on South African stages in the last couple of decades and easily this is the version with the most memorable polish, which in a way underplays the central skanky dynamics of the doings over at the Frankenstein Place. In Teatro, there’s a sheen to the work which lends it a bling that may conflict with its original texture. But this doesn’t hurt its entertainment value.

As with any multi-casted production that has a long international history, there are stand out performances and in this particular version, there are many. Aside from Urbani’s Frank n Furter and Normington’s Narrator, you will remember Didintle Khunou’s Janet with her magnificent voice; the fresh young thing, Jarryd Nurden as Rocky, fresh off the slab in his golden briefs and Zak Hendrikz’s cameo roles of Eddie and Dr Scott. But above all, you will remember the ensemble energy.

The work features stage smoke and strobes but they are handled with a predictable wisdom and a logical context that keeps them contained. The strobe describes the lightning in this B-grade type sexy horror story, and it is positioned sufficiently high onstage not to blind you, in the audience. Light beams construct a sense of mayhem and energy, something spinning off audience eyes, but overall creating an experience which works, even if what felt risqué to 1973s audiences feels quaint today.

  • Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show, directed by Christopher Luscombe, with resident director Anton Luitingh and musical direction by Bryan Schimmel is written by Richard O’Brien. It is designed by Hugh Durrant (set), Sue Blane (costumes), Nathan M Wright (choreographer), Nick Richings (lighting), Gareth Owen (sound), Richard Hartley (musical arrangements) and Tim Mitchell (lighting). It is performed by Andrew Ahern, Anthony Downing, Stefania Du Toit, Zak Hendrikz, Didintle Khunou, Kristian Lavercombe, Sean John Louw, Kate Normington, Usisipho Nteyi, Jarryd Nurden, Tyla Dee Nurden, Jessica Sole, Robin Timm, Craig Urbani and Marlee van der Merwe, supported by a band under the direction of Bryan Schimmel (keyboard), comprising Wian Joubert (drums), Christiaan Lombard (guitar), Stephen Maycock (bass) and Jed Peterson (tenor sax). It is at Teatro, Montecasino until March 1.

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