Review: The Rocky Horror Show

Playing at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre until July 30, Perth’s Crown Theatre from August 6, Queensland’s The Star Gold Coast from September 3 and Canberra’s Theatre Centre from September 29.

More information and ticket sales can be found at

A brand-new Australian production of The Rocky Horror Show premiered at Melbourne’s Athenaeum theatre last night. Written and created by Richard O’Brien, The Rocky Horror Show is the only contemporary rock musical to celebrate 50 years on stage. It has been seen by over 30 million people worldwide, performed in over 30 countries, on every continent and has been translated into more than 20 languages.

Starring Jason Donovan (Frank N Furter), Myf Warhust (Narrator), Deirdre Khoo (Janet) and Ethan Jones (Brad), The Rocky Horror Show tells the story of a newly engaged couple (Brad and Janet) getting caught in a storm and coming to the home of a mad transvestite scientist, Dr Frank-N-Furter, unveiling his new creation, Rocky, a sort of Frankenstein-style monster in the form of an artificially made, fully grown, physically perfect muscle man.

Jason Donovan makes the role his own while paying homage to the actors who have played Frank N Furter before him. Donovan is fearless yet not as over-the-top as previous adaptions. A few adlibbed, cheeky moments help show he’s enjoying the heck out of role.

Although her Australian accent often felt jarring in contrast to the cast donning convincing foreign accents, Myf Warhust is delightful in the role of the narrator. As audience participation is encouraged throughout the show, Warhust handles herself well. When someone heckled her about the ‘end of her career’, she took the zinger and threw it back at the boisterous audience member. “Whose name is on the outside of the theatre?!” she responded to a roar.  

[Note: In Perth, Gold Coast, Canberra, and the final three weeks in Melbourne, Frank N Furter will be played by three-time Olivier Award-winning UK star David Bedella. While Nicholas Hammond will take on the role of The Narrator in Perth, Gold Coast, and Canberra.]

The standout for me was Henry Rollo (Riff Raff) who somehow manages to be both sinister and charming, delightful and captivating. The Voice’s Stellar Perry expertly pulls double duty as the Usherette and Magenta, while Ellis Dolan also nails both Eddie and Dr. Scott. Darcey Eagle (Columbia) and Loredo Malcolm (Rocky) are good in their respected roles. The tiny ensemble of Phantoms are under-utilised and are reduced to moving sets and props and singing off stage.

My feelings towards The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) have always been the same, that is I wish I was on an acid trip or a 24-hour bender as then I think I would really enjoy it. However, I’ve always found it confusing and a little dull to be honest. Perhaps, had I been alive during the sexual revolution/liberation of 1960s and 1970s I would consider things differently, but I grew up in a time where porn is readily available online and frequently seen in network television such as Game Of Thrones, Sex And The City, Shameless and Euphoria. Not to mention, gay marriage is legal, and people aren’t restricted by gender norms and are free to wear whatever they want.

Thus, my opinion will always vary to those older than myself. The multicultural cast is something the musical does right and is the only sign of progressive change.

The Rocky Horror Show is a musical, in both subject matter and reality, out of time and space. Apart from its cult status, is it relevant in this day and age? In this post-#MeToo world, one must err on the side of caution. The show played a part in helping pave the way to sexual freedom – but that was long ago. A middle-aged man in suspenders isn’t as risqué nor shocking as I imagine it was back in the day. The show is bawdy and naughty, but it won’t appeal to everyone.

One can forgive flaws if truly engaged, but this production fell flat in comparison to other productions like & Juliet and Mary Poppins currently on offer. I don’t usually compare, with those two in particular you get more bang for your buck in terms of sets and costumes. I don’t think these things are necessary to have a successful and enjoyable show (I recently saw a musical where the only things on stage were a ladder and table, and it was great), I do believe here either less is more, or more is more – not this weird in-between.

The beginning of the musical felt more like a high school production with cardboard cut outs and cheap looking costumes. This quickly improves once the clean-cut lovebirds arrive at Frank N Furter’s ornate castle, with its rich velvet walls, gold fixtures and satin sheets.

As is the tradition of the show, one song flows on to the other with not much in the way of driving the plot. However, upon researching that The Rocky Horror Show was written as a tribute to science fiction and horror B movies from the 1930s through to the early 1960s (a time when films would feature long, arduous talking scenes with minor action giving promiscuous teenagers ample time to make out in their cars at drive-in cinema double features), this comes of no surprise. It is simply a product of its time and of no fault of this production.

Sweet Transvestite, Time Warp and Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me were still popular amongst the audience, and those looking to dance get their chance at the end of the show. As expected, many theatregoers donned costumes for the night out. Fishnet stockings, bustiers, feathers, all were seen.

The run time itself is short, with both acts running approximately an hour long each. The first act especially felt rushed, and key moments didn’t stick as well as I remember from the film.

In contrast, I took my 70-year-old father who watches the movie once a year and has seen many stage adaptations. He loved the show and is making plans to see it again.

I prefer musicals with a clean narrative and songs that drive the plot. Those with similar views should stay far away from The Rocky Horror Show. However, those who have love and nostalgia for The Rocky Horror Show will most likely be pleased with this current adaptation.

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