This revival stars Todd McKenney but didn't leave us feeling spaced out on sensation
You know when those wedding receptions have started to sour, after you’ve eaten the chicken despite the fact you ordered the fish, when the cheap Champagne tastes cheaper by the hour, and some dodgy DJ thinks the ‘Time Warp’ is just the thing to get the intergenerational dancing going? You remember when madness, in the form of soul-crushing ennui, takes its toll? That’s pretty much the sensation one gets watching yet another revolution on the merry-go-round for this spent and cynical production of Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show. Like you’re under sedation.
Rocky Horror is seminal in many ways; from those who were lucky enough to experience the original 1973 stage show in London, to those who watched the film either in interactive midnight screenings or furtively late at night on TV, the piece has always held a kind of subversive, sexy fascination. It took all the clichés of post-war science fiction film and fetishised them, upended their heteronormativity and their political conservatism, and produced something truly cult. The problem with cult is that – once it becomes mainstream and gets reiterated in increasingly anodyne ways – it loses its power to shock and surprise. In fact, it loses its raison d’être.
This production is, of course, tainted by the allegations made against former star Craig McLachlan last year; despite what the producers may wish, they hang like a cloud of pollution over everything that happens on stage. Todd McKenney has been brought in to reboot or erase the memory of that performance, but it doesn’t work: his every gesture, every intonation, seems self-consciously inoffensive, which merely washes out all the colour from the role. At best McKenney comes across as Joan Crawford in motorcycle leathers, about as sexy and subversive as a Moomba clown. Not for a second does he seem dangerous, which is basically a prerequisite for Frank-N-Furter.
Danger is sorely lacking throughout this production, whether that be in concept, design or execution. Everything is orchestrated to feel safe and familiar, as PG as a Dreamworks animation. Hugh Durrant’s hunting lodge set rimmed with cartoon-sized celluloid is dreary, although Nick Richings’ overactive lighting design does occasionally liven it, and the glittery ticker tape curtain towards the end is fabulous. Sue Blane’s costumes are obvious – referencing Buddy Holly and Sandra Dee for Brad and Janet is the production’s only original idea – and Nathan M Wright’s choreography is blandly forgettable.
There are a couple of standout performances: Kristian Lavercombe is as good a Riff Raff as you could hope for, with a piercing vocal delivery and a slyly knowing air; and Nadia Komazec brings the house down as a spaced-out Columbia. The rest are either acceptable or ordinary. Rob Mallett and Michelle Smitheram fail to make much of Brad and Janet, and Amanda Harrison is simply miscast as Magenta. Like McKenney, she’s oddly muted in a role that needs genuine grit. Shane Jacobson plays a fairly straight bat with his Narrator – apart from some lamely scripted ad-libbing, he delivers the part without fuss.
McKenney looks like a fairly safe bet as Frank on paper, and it’s nice to finally see an openly queer actor in the role in this country, but the results are decidedly lacklustre. He barely ad-libs at all, and his attempts to milk the crowd for laughs and adoration fall flat. It almost seems like he’d rather be somewhere else. But perhaps it isn’t McKenney’s fault. This production is attempting to ignore a very large elephant in the room; the decision to tone down the sex and innuendo might seem like a good idea in the current climate but actually it proves fatal. While it’s painful to say it, Rocky Horror should probably be buried for a decade or so, and left for a new generation to revive its corpse. In its current state, the show is the kind of time warp we can do without.