Heraclitus remarked that one cannot cross the same river twice. No musical act can ever truly be "the new Elvis", "the new Beatles" or "the new Dylan"; no television docudrama can be "the new Cathy Come Home". (Titanic – the new Gone With The Wind – is the exception that proves the rule.) Once ground has been broken, it cannot be broken anew a second time. Saucy Jack And The Space Vixens can never be the new Rocky Horror Show.
True, it has grown like Richard O'Brien's monster from modest beginnings (in this case, as a student show from the University of Kent in Over-Seas House on the 1995 Edinburgh Fringe); true also, its book and lyrics contain the kind of effortless camp lewdery that O'Brien has been unable to reattain for the last two decades – the action takes place in a seedy cabaret bar on the planet Frottage III, where a group of intergalactic crimefighters (the Space Vixens) arrive to track down the vicious Slingback Killer, who... yes... stabs his victims with a sequinned shoe. But at other times it simply tries too hard: the song "Fetish Number From Nowhere" is clearly a blood relative of Rocky's "Sweet Transvestite", and Dr Whackoff's spoken coda tells us almost in as many words, don't dream it – be it.
The ethos of the show is glam, but '70s disco-glam rather than the raucous yobbery of glam-rock proper, with song titles like "Glitter Boots Saved My Life" and "All I Need Is Disco"; the writers manage to cram in allusions to "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" and two separate Gloria Gaynor songs within a single number. (Against this, at one point James Compton and his band dispatch a very serviceable Dave and Ansil Collins-style bluebeat stomp.) Performers wear those little microphones that curl around the side of the face; they could have gone for more unobtrusive devices, but these look more futuristic, don't they? The sound mix for the early part of the press night was frankly dire, with vocals semi-audible and musical dynamics lost beneath the beat – you couldn't even hear the Shaft-esque "chuck-a-wah" guitar properly.
As Jack, David Schofield is in no doubt that subtlety should be left at home with a good book, and not tolerated within the precincts of the Queen's Theatre. David Ashley struts his transgendered stuff with aplomb as would-be Vixen Booby, and Daniel Wexler's Sammy combines appealing wimpishness with no mean sax-playing ability. Director Keith Strachan gives us the lot – wild flashing lights, Kirby wires, a fan dance... you name it. But there is something unappealing about watching people strive with such steely determination. Underneath it all, they are not just serious; they are earnest. When Schofield tells himself, "Saucy Jack, you're a naughty one," he is quoting from This Is Spinal Tap; the line gets a moderate laugh of recognition, but Rob Reiner's film works so beautifully because it underplays much of the ludicrousness. Bigger and brasher is not necessarily better. Saucy Jack will do modest to respectable business because it offers a couple of hours of a familiar kind of fun, but only the pretence of real extravagance or liberation. Myself, I always preferred the raucous yobbery.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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