Review: Rocky Horror Show (Theatre Royal)

Venue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), Feb 14 – Apr 1, 2023
Music, lyrics and book: Richard O’Brien
Director: Chris Luscombe
Cast: Ellis Dolan, Jason Donovan, Darcey Eagle, Ethan Jones, Deidre Khoo, Loredo Malcolm, Stellar Perry, Henry Rollo, Myf Warhurst

Theatre review
Half a century after its inception, the only thing shocking about Rocky Horror Show is in the realisation, that the word “transvestite” is now beginning to sound archaic. Frank-N-Furter’s ambiguous gender expressions are now, unbelievable as it may seem, a normalised phenomenon in many cities, so the iconic figure is no longer the ironic abomination it once was. Their power however, remains resolutely intact, and it is that sense of dominion they exude, that keeps the show a thrilling experience.

This latest rendition by director Chris Luscombe, seems quite incredibly, to be even more energetic and exuberant than ever before. The show’s celebratory qualities appear to really resonate, in this new age of queerness and trans-inclusiveness; the Rocky Horror Show may not have changed as much as we have, but that is perhaps the reason for its renewed allure. We are looking at the show with fresh eyes, and discovering that it still makes sense for the Twenty-First Century, albeit in differently nuanced ways.

Times have changed. 30 years ago, Jason Donovan was accused by the queer community for homophobia, following his legal action against a publication for false claims about his sexuality. Today, Donovan is an excellent Frank-N-Furter, completely at ease with the camp and salacious aspects of the role, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the part’s efficaciousness. He pushes to the limit, right where the bawdy, brash and crass, is about to become too much, and lets us off the hook, so that he can take us further the next time.

The narrator is played by Myf Warhurst, much less seasoned as a musical performer, but clearly a charming celebrity, happy in her own skin and comfortable with public adoration. Deidre Khoo and Ethan Jones are sensational as Janet and Brad, both fantastically versatile, and captivating with their sardonic characterisations and exquisite timing. Also memorable, are Stellar Perry and Henry Rollo, as Usherette/Magenta and Riff Raff respectively, delivering all the electrifying subversive joy associated with the legendary Rocky Horror Show. Also noteworthy is musical direction by Jack Earle, who injects extraordinary spiritedness, into a production that leaves us wanting more.

In 2023, it is Janet and Brad who look more alien than anyone else, on the Rocky Horror stage. What creator Richard O’Brien had identified in 1973 as ordinary but repugnant, is now simply bizarre. The puritanical values represented by the couple, and the hypocrisy they embody, although still prevalent in certain circles, are no longer the norm it used to be. People need to be allowed to diverge in whatever ways suit them, as long as nobody gets hurt, and as long as we know to give ourselves over to “absolute pleasure” from time to time.