It's a bit like panto, but for grown-ups ; Theatre Royal ROCKY HORROR SHOWIt's been 40 years since we first did the Time Warp again. Erik Petersen hears from one of the people bringing back the Rocky Horror Show
YOU know you're involved in something big when you've got fans who will follow you anywhere.
From the England cricket team's Barmy Army to the Grateful Dead's ageless Deadheads, some cultural institutions are known for their loyal, roaming fan-bases that develop a culture of their own. For another obvious example, witness the people who follow the Rocky Horror Show and the cult film it spawned. For actors performing in the stage show, members of the fanbase get to be well-known faces.
You certainly get to recognise - oh, there's badge man, there's flag man, there's Asian Janet, says Philip Franks, who plays The Narrator, the show's professorial host who becomes decidedly less professorial as the evening goes on.
The excitement is that the fan base, which is so big - it's very special for them. You ignore their relationship with it at your peril. It's really a central part in their lives, they come again and again and again.
This is a big year for Rocky Horror and its fans. The current touring production celebrates the 40th anniversary of the musical's 1973 debut at Royal Court Theatre's experimental Theatre Upstairs.
When Richard O'Brien wrote the musical more than 40 years ago, it tapped into its age. A generation reared on schlocky sci-fi B- movies were now emerging into a time of unprecedented sexual freedom. Those two details might not have looked like the sort of thing that could be combined on stage but as it turns out, they were.
Philip believes that for Rocky Horror to really work, it's also got to possess that early-70s DIY ethic - it's got to look like a beg-borrow-or-steal production. It should con the audience into feeling like it's a bit ramshackle, he says. A lot of the things it references are tacky.
With its big numbers and wild sets, it's not an easy show to do. It's great fun, but also hard work.
I think in order to get to that level where it looks like a giant party between actors and audience, it's the old cliche of the duck's feet under water, says Philip, whose co-stars include Dani Harmer and Ben Forster.
You need a tight band, nailed down choreography and singing and in general, a relentlessly professional approach. Only when that amount of really hard ground work is done can you fly on top of that, he says.
Beneath all the lore and super-fandom, this is proper musical theatre. Philip, whose CV also includes playing Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company and TV work including The Darling Buds of May, notes that this is no Singalonga Rocky. What it isn't is a karaoke evening, Philip says. It's a proper musical.
It was from the Royal Court - it doesn't get more legitimate than that.
That said, it's a legitimate musical with a few twists.
It's enormous fun to play, especially when the audience are really up for it. The twin peaks of worry for me are the Monday nights when nobody shouts out anything at all and the Friday nights where they're all off their face.
As the character charged with dealing directly with the audience, Philip must try to walk the line between anarchic fun and total breakdown. (Audience members) love it when they can get their shouting done and you answer back, he says. The trick for The Narrator is to never lose your temper with the audience. If you treat them like charming children, that's the way through.
There's an obvious comparison to be drawn here. It's like panto, but for grown-ups. (The for grown-ups part should probably be emphasised there.) When was the last time you were allowed to go to the theatre and shout? Philip says. It was when you were a child. For Philip, it makes for an experience that's hard work but well worth it.
It really is enormous fun, this show, he says. It's more fun that I thought it would be. The Rocky Horror Show is at the Theatre Royal from Monday until Saturday. Showtime is 8pm Monday to Thursday, 5:30pm and 8:30pm on Friday and Saturday. Tickets are Pounds 16 to Pounds 34.50 and can be booked at trch.co.uk, 0115 989 5555 or in person at the Theatre Royal box office.
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