Whitehall Theatre, London SW1
Opened 22 July, 1996

Twenty-odd years ago, the first production of The Rocky Horror Show drew less than enthusiastic reviews, but it has since become a classic of the outrageous musical genre and a cult in its own right. If, in decades to come, the appalling Voyeurz undergoes a similar rehabilitation, then we might all just as well give up now.

Let us first dispose of the hype: Voyeurz has as much to do with lesbianism as a packet of mixed nuts does with the Care in the Community scheme. Conceived, directed and composed by men, it is a male vision of Sapphic titillation. The only female creative input, Bunty Matthias and Annabel Haydn's choreography, is at its most effective when least concerned with either plot or concept (and I use the words loosely), most notably in a captivating routine with three nude female dancers swathing themselves in white rubber sheets nominally yet another nod to fetishism, it is in fact simply a fine dance sequence.

Similarly, "lipstick lesbian" group Fem 2 Fem are merely the creations of their managers/composers/directors Michael Lewis and Peter Rafelson, and as such have all the "agenda" of The Monkees. The taped music is well produced electro-clubby stuff, but as for the lyrics... I consider myself a connoisseur of alarmingly duff rhymes, and this show contains more than I have heard since the heyday of Bernie Taupin; particularly execrable are the rhymes of "insane" with "escape", "Tantric sex" with "evil hex" and the immortal couplet, "How are you doing? What is your name?" "Fine, thanks; I'm Jane" (this last constituting the opening of the breathily catchy "Sex On A Train"). Elsewhere we are advised that "The aim of Tantric sex is to ride the bliss wave"; innocent young Jane's first visit to the exotic club Voyeurz leads to a chorus of "She's in the Hole now, ooh, ooh," and the later observation concerning the club's dominatrix Eve that "She's cruel and unusual".

I do not believe that these lyrics, or the show in general, are deliberately awful, simply lackadaisical and contemptuous of the audience: it is terrible, runs the plea, but its creators know as much, and therefore it qualifies as camp. This is the curse of postmodernism, and is not at all how the trash aesthetic works. Producer Michael White seems to be hoping, if not for a succès de scandale such as he enjoyed in a less sated age with Oh! Calcutta, at least for a cult following. On the evidence of the press night a core of acolytes has already formed; however, the group in the front row hefting their trainers onto the stage for the shoe-fetish sequence were far outnumbered by the walkouts and the latter were not stamping out in high moral dudgeon but trudging in dispirited boredom, resigned to the fact that fun was not looming on the horizon, in the next number or the next series of high-tech projections around the stage. Production values are high and are successfully met, but one recalls the saying about a particular object which cannot be polished. Such laughs as there were, were at the performers rather than with them.

As the enticingly corruptible Jane, Sally Anne Marsh, fresh from clandestine heterosexual snogs in Grange Hill and advising her younger sister to use Clearasil, has a singing voice with all the weaknesses of early Madonna only more so; from the second-to-back row it was hard to tell whether she deserves profound sympathy for finding herself embroiled in such a farrago or lasting damnation for knowingly colluding in it. Krysten Cummings, as Jane's beloved Andi, has a fine soulful voice in the slightly over-impassioned Nineties mould, but is seldom called to use it upon more than inanities. Of the Hot Gossip-y dancers, Robert Nurse (one of only two men in the company) sticks in the mind for an ice-cool display of couldn't-care-lessness during "Stand Back".

This is intended to be sensual, "adult" entertainment. Yet surely the heart of eroticism is allusion, or at most tantalisation. Voyeurz is so consistently in-your-face (to name only the most northerly region) that it fails utterly to arouse; in the words of comedian Graham Norton, "my trousers remained baggy". So: sensual no; entertainment no. And if this is the stuff of cults, we need a new Inquisition, but fast.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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