Dammit, Janet. I really loved this show. From the pitch-perfect Jason Donovan who stepped into the iconic fishnets with aplomb to the supporting cast, the 50th Anniversary production of Richard O’Brien’s cult classic, Rocky Horror Show was a triumph.
After years of controversy surrounding the production, the fear that no one could fill the role of Frank n’ Furter was at the forefront of my mind. It takes an actor willing to be incredibly vulnerable to risk looking absolutely ridiculous, and able to lean into the gloriously nonsensical musical beloved the world over.
The worldwide phenomenon that is Rocky Horror has been seen by over 30 million people, in 30 countries and translated into over 20 languages. Proving that no matter who you are, where you live or what language you speak, we all understand the power of the wonderfully over-the-top characters and fan fic-esque plot of Rocky Horror.
Premiering at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1973, the successful stage show was adapted into the film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975 where it cemented itself as part of the cultural zeitgeist when it began midnight screenings. It is now considered the longest-running release in film history and continues to play in cinemas worldwide.
With such a huge following, taking on a classic piece of theatre would daunt the most seasoned professionals, but the cast of the Melbourne opening night never faltered. From the Usherette’s (Stella Perry) opening number to Jason Donovan’s swan song as Frank n' Furter, the cast was divine.
Because let’s be honest, it was Donovan we came to see. Could he live up to iconic role, most famously portrayed by Tim Curry in the film? Yes. Yes he could. Donovan’s Frank was delightfully camp, naughty, and while essentially the villain of the piece, still somehow sympathetic. He gave it his absolute all, and the payoff was tremendous.
Supported by Melbourne treasure, Myf Warhurst as the Narrator, Myf seemed ever-so-slightly nervous, but there’s very little she wouldn’t be forgiven for, given her much-loved status in the city. Newcomer Deidre Khoo was a delightful Janet, partnered by Ethan Jones as Brad, the pair were whimsical and naïve, easily led astray by the seductive Donovan.
Henry Rollo took on the role of Riff Raff (originally portrayed by created O’Brien) and it seemed as if the essence of O’Brien’s original character flowed through him. His wretched appearance and hunched movements gave him a wonderful monster-like quality. Loredo Malcom was a gloriously glittery Rocky and Darcy Eagle slayed as Columbia.
The production had moved from its usual home of the Comedy Theatre to the Atheneum which led to some staging changes, and I was sad to not see Eddie (played by Ellis Dolan) roar onto the stage on his motorcycle.
That small technical critique aside, the Rocky Horror Show has flamboyantly crashed into the hearts of Melbourne audiences. For a show that’s 50 years old, and with an incredibly problematic storyline around consent, it still somehow manages to be charming given its controversial themes. Somehow, Rocky Horror has stood the test of time. It’s a magical moment where you can immerse yourself in this wild fantasy and abandon all logic. Suspend your disbelief, go on, do the time warp again.
Rocky Horror Show
by Richard O'Brien
Director Christopher Luscombe
Venue: Athenaeum Theatre | 188 Collins St, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 24 May – 30 July 2023
Tickets: $159.90 – $69.90