Shock Treatment

Theatre, Musicals
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
Shock Treatment, King's Head Theatre
© Peter Langdown

'The Rocky Horror Show's long-forgotten sequel is a blast

A cult buried within a cult, ‘Shock Treatment’ is the oft-maligned, more often forgotten 1981 film follow-up to ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. It’s a deeply weird, startlingly prescient satire on the rise of reality television, rampant commodification and the cult of the everyday, talentless celebrity. It swaps the fishnets and sexual liberation of ‘Rocky’ for a world of hospital corridors, straightjackets and gameshow hosts playing doctors and nurses.

More than 30 years after it bombed in cinemas, it’s finally made it to the stage, and fans can rejoice that this world premiere production at the King’s Head Theatre is a triumph that goes beyond loving recreation.

'Rocky’s Brad and Janet are now unhappily married, and in a plot more concerned with grotesque parody than nuanced character, they find themselves living in a town encased in a giant TV studio. Janet is promised a life of glamour by fast food mogul and TV station owner Farley Flavours, who attempts to inflict an electric lobotomy on poor Brad.

Adaptor Tom Crowley has refined Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman’s original plot, clarifying the narrative somewhat. Crowley’s comic writing is a great match for the show’s lunatic satire, and he’s done a superb job. There have been necessary casualties however, and while the loss of characters such as blind creep Bert Schnick (originally played by Barry ‘Dame Edna’ Humphries!) isn’t really felt, there is a sense that some of the original’s oddity has been toned down.

Whatever you make of ‘Shock Treatment’s’ Marmite story, its musical brilliance is undeniable. Numbers like opener ‘Denton USA’, the gorgeously kitsch ‘Bitchin’ in the Kitchen’ and stomping ‘Little Black Dress’ are as good or even better than their counterparts in ‘Rocky Horror’, and they soar in musical director Alex Beetschen’s new arrangements. The band is cooking, and the cast’s vocals almost uniformly brilliant.

Julie Atherton steals the show as Janet, but there is great work from double-act ‘The Twins Macabre’ as incestuous doctors Cosmo and Nation McKinley. Mark Little is lacking in the vocal and stage presence required for lead villain Farley, but ultimately director Benji Sperring’s fizzing, risk-taking production more than makes up for any shortcomings.

By: Stewart Pringle

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