The Venue, London WC2
Opened 6 December, 2005

This musical blend of the polymorphous perversity of Rocky Horror, the rock 'n' roll sci-fi of Return To The Forbidden Planet and the disco of, er, disco has always worked better in clubbier venues; the last time it played the West End, at the Queen's Theatre in 1998, you could feel the industrious effort pour off the stage in waves like the dry ice that it periodically deployed. In contrast, the converted church crypt off Leicester Square that is The Venue has a zone of table seating around which the performers can prowl whilst we cowards skulk in the ranks of folding-plastic-bucket seats further back. Director Michael Fidler uses the whole space well, even daring to leave the corpse of Chesty Prospects, stabbed through the heart with a sequinned slingback, in the middle of the auditorium throughout the interval before bringing her off in the second act.

That last sentence gives a fair idea of the plot: camp serial killer in intergalactic clip joint, patrolled by lamé-wearing amazons; love, death, showbiz and bubble-wrap fetish. It's obviously an attempt to write a successor to Richard O'Brien's "don't dream it, be it" sensation, and thus sets itself high standards against which to be judged. This time out, it damned near meets them.

Scott Baker is a pudgy, arch Saucy Jack whose image and manner form an agreeable contrast with his later villainy. As head Vixen Jubilee Climax, Faye Tozer knows exactly the kind of campery to provide whilst ably belting out her numbers: her stint in manufactured pop group Steps trained her in showmanship rather than dramatic subtlety, just as the show requires. The decision to use a pre-recorded score has its benefits on big-blast numbers such as "Glitter Boots Saved My Life" and Jubilee's big power ballad "Living In Hell", but especially during the build-up through the first hour, the show would gain significant kick from having at least a core band playing live. Despite this and its obvious derivativeness, by the end I found myself surprisingly seduced (though "seduced" is hardly the right word). Now, as long as the Prince Charles cinema next door doesn't hold one of its periodic campalong screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show during the run...

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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