How do you get to pin the “cult” label on a musical? Plenty of shows have claimed that status, but there is maybe just one for which the status could have been invented. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Rocky Horror Show.
When unknowing newlyweds Brad and Janet roll into the Congress Theatre later this month, they will find it transformed into the castle of a mad scientist, and.... well, most of you know the rest. And once they and you are welcomed in by Riff Raff, Magenta and Doctor Frank N. Furter himself, there is no escape from an evening of mayhem.
In musical theatre - that happy world where most of life is sunny and all of it is hummable - there is nothing that quite compares with this show. It tramples all over conventions and revels in the outrageous. And it is great fun. Thousands of Rocky Horror fans will be making the pilgrimage to the Congress, but there is always room for new converts.
Richard O’Brien was an out-of-work actor when he wrote the show, to keep himself busy in long winter evenings. By the summer of ‘73 the Royal Court - who else? - had agreed to stage it, and the rest is history.
The current production is on a storming year-long UK tour. In an attempt to get a grasp on its phenomenal success, I managed to track down Paul Cattermole, who stars as Eddie/Dr Scott. He was between performances in Bournemouth, and for a man who spends his week immersed in schlock horror, he seemed surprisingly normal.
“I kind of fell into the part, really. It came up in a bar conversation that Rocky Horror was casting, and I ran with the idea and auditioned. I’d seen the stage show and the movie, always loved it, loved the music and the whole concept. So yes, I’m having a ball with it. It’s fair to say it’s like nothing else on your CV.”
That statement is especially true in Paul Cattermole’s case. If you don’t recall his name, you will certainly remember the band with which he rocketed to stardom in the late 1990s - S Club 7. They were the shining, bright-eyed group who burst on the pop scene and had every teen and pre-teen girl delightedly copying their exuberant routines as they Reached for the Stars. (I should know: my own daughters were adoring fans...).
“S Club 7 was brilliant - really great fun to be a part of. Rocky Horror couldn’t be more different, I suppose, but in the course of a performing career that’s what you do. Just different shows, different roles to play.”
And is the Rocky Horror Show only for the true fans, the converted? “Oh no. Of course there are huge numbers who are in a kind of paid-up membership, and they love it and inevitably we do play to them. But we certainly get new audience all the time and you can definitely join up. You might come in as a newcomer but you’ll leave as a convert!
“What we often find is that the new people are in at the start of the week, giving it a try, and they will love it too. But Friday and Saturday will be solid with the regulars, who will all have booked ahead. Those are the performances that really reach bubbling point and then it’s just another level.”
Now then, the show is notorious for, shall we say, its audience involvement. I wonder how many rows back I need to sit for safety? Paul reflects briefly, and I think I can hear him mentally counting. “I’d say about twelve rows back if you want to stay in the neutral seats,” he chuckles. But this show stands or falls on the audience rapport: there is actually no sterile zone.
I recall watching an earlier production, a good few years ago now, in the Devonshire Park Theatre. Does the venue make a difference? “When you are on a long tour, you adapt to each different performing space. There can be something more conducive about a more old-fashioned, more intimate theatre. We were in Torquay recently in the Princess Theatre, which is smaller and has that décor and period feel, right down to the plush old seats.
“But again, we played the enormous Festival Theatre in Edinburgh too, and most sizes in between. A show like this can take a quite neutral auditorium and transform it.”
I ask Paul Cattermole if such an iconic show is set in stone - or does it and can it evolve? “You’re not wrong in that two-thirds of the audience know absolutely all the music and dialogue, so we have to respect that. I’d say there are tweaks, rather than major changes. As with any production, something will come up in rehearsal that works, and you run with it. In fact there’s a whole new Riff Raff scene at one point, which developed in that way and we kept it in.”
Nothing like keeping your audience - even a Rocky-till-we-die audience - on its toes. But the punters will lap it up: a loud, garish tribute to the horror B-movies, with an utterly crazy plot, plenty of sex and a dash of transvestism. Is it offensive? Well, you can’t exactly visit the Frankenstein Castle on your National Trust season ticket, but as long as you know what to expect, you’ll not be offended. And if you are truly new to Rocky Horror, book yourself seats somewhere near me - I know too much, and I’ll be in Row 13.
The Rocky Horror Show is at the Congress Theatre from Monday September 19. By Kevin Anderson/
Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.
Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.
1) Make our website your homepage at www.eastbourneherald.co.uk/
2) Like our Facebook page at Text to display
3) Follow us on Twitter @Eastbournenews
4) Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.
And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!
The Eastbourne Herald - always the first with your local news.
Be part of it.