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CHRISTMAS ROCKY HORROR at the The Birdcage Nightclub
Leeds - Monday 3rd & 17th December 2007 Manchester - Tuesday 4th, 11th & 18th December 2007
Review by Rob Bagnall
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For the obsessively devoted fan, Rocky Horror withdrawal is a terrible thing. That two or three years between stage show tours is a very... long... time, and it sometimes feels as though the show no longer exists and will never return. Thankfully, there is the occasional respite from this all too regular nightmare (film screenings, tribute shows and the like), so it was with a certain amount of excitement that I read about the Rocky themed cabaret show being performed at The Birdcage Nightclub in Manchester (practically on my doorstep) featuring one of my favourite UK tour Frank-n-Furters from yesteryear, the wonderful David Dale.

For those not familiar with this type of cabaret show, it is the kind of performance featured heavily in movies such as Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert and seen at venues such as Funny Girls, Blackpool's famous transvestite show-bar. Therefore the performers don't actually sing the songs themselves, they lip sync them in a larger than life and outrageously theatrical manner. In fact David Dale himself said to Kev McEwen a couple of weeks ago, "Don't get too excited; it's just a bunch of drag queens miming to Rocky Horror". Well personally I think that sounds like a very good reason to get excited.
The flyers and posters proclaim that it's a "6 part Rocky tribute with disco throughout the night, starring David Dale from the original show", which is maybe a slight liberty, as I'm sure dozens (maybe even hundreds) of actors had slipped into Franks platform heels (and made the role at least partly their own) in several different productions of The Rocky Horror Show before Dave got there in the mid 1980s, but I'm sure that Tim Curry won't be losing too much sleep over that claim.

The show itself took the form of a five part cabaret, and began with the words "Rocky Horror Night - Tonite At The Birdcage" projected onto three white screens which descended on to the stage for each successive part of the show and were then flown out again each time the disco resumed. At the end of each part the words "End of part 1" or whatever were projected in the Rocky bloody font.

As directed and choreographed by David Dale of course, the show's style was very much Rocky of the 80s, as that's how he remembers the show; and for those of us who saw the Theatre Royal Hanley tour, it was a lovely warm nostalgic feeling.

In true Rocky Horror tradition, the evening began with four of the performers dressed as Phantoms in white formal dress shirts, black trousers, bow ties and clear feature-less plastic masks (ah, memories), stalking the crowd silently with very slow robotic movements until the beginning of the show itself. David Dale minced onto the stage in a short pink Usherette outfit and enthusiastically bounced and mimed his way through the legendary Roxy cast recording's jaunty version of Science Fiction Double Feature; it was a perfect indication of what was to come and the mood was fun, camp and over-the-top.
Apart from David Dale, the only other cast member whose name I know is Gordon Travis, the young man who played Brad (I used to work with him, but I had no idea he was in the show at The Birdcage before I got there on the night). Apologies for not knowing the names of the other performers, but I will of course refer to them by character.

Brad and a slim and petite dark haired Janet, dressed in very 1950s style outfits, set the scene by mouthing along to a portion of Adrian Edmondson and Gina Bellman's dialogue from the 1990 Whole Gory Story cast album, and slightly truncated versions of Damn It Janet and Over At The Frankenstein Place (the editing wasn't bad at all, and I'm sure only those of us who know the songs inside out would have spotted the join). During the car journey and subsequent song, an impressive cartoon rain storm was projected onto the screens (complete with lightning, full moon and flitting bats), which Kev and I both agreed would work brilliantly in an actual production of The Rocky Horror Show itself. During the song, Janet held the traditional newspaper over her head while Brad put up a clear plastic umbrella. Without trying to read anything too deeply into this, I immediately thought that, apart from being an amusing little comedy moment, Brad having an umbrella while Janet was forced to make do with a newspaper was a nice little (intentional?) comment on 1950s values and sexual stereotypes. Over At The Frankenstein Place brought Part 1 of the show to a close and it was time to replenish our drinks and have a geeky chat about the cabaret from a serious Rocky Horror devotee's point of view.

Part 2 began about thirty minutes later with Brad and Janet's arrival at the castle. Riff Raff, a very expressive performer with a huge rictus grin, wore a costume which consisted of a light grey dusty formal wedding outfit with plenty of large blood stains on the jacket and a freaky grey wig. It brought to mind a bizarre cross between Beetlejuice, Iron Maiden's Eddie and an EC comics zombie; an extremely good look for Riff Raff, which again I think would work for the show itself.
Columbia (who I'm reliably informed was actually male) wore coloured stripy stockings, red shorts and tails, while Magenta was a slightly more gothic version of the traditional maid look. It was also nice to see Eddie as a kind of 1970s punk for a change instead of the expected '50s biker. All of the costumes, with their refreshing twists from the norm here and there, would work perfectly well in a production of The Rocky Horror Show proper.

Whether the performers sing or not, any Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow-cast member knows that lip-synching well is an art form in itself, and of course, with this kind of show, the emphasis is largely on the choreography which is where the performers' most obvious talents lie.
The Time Warp seemed to be an amalgam of moves from the movie version and the traditional 'dancing at a wedding' arm movements of the Damian generation, and Kev and I spotted quite a bit of the old Hanley tour choreography at various points throughout the show too. David Dale's wonderfully expressively rubber face added a new dimension to Tim Curry's Roxy version of Sweet Transvestite and finished the second part of the show on a high. As David himself said to me after the show, he was slimmer when I last saw him as Frank (weren't we all, darling?), but he still has the moves and the infectious enthusiasm.
As those of us who know the story might have expected, Part 3 took us to Frank's laboratory (with appropriate projection on the screens) and the birth of Rocky himself (in pink sequinned shorts). Frank despatched Eddie with a large plastic knife, and the third part closed at the traditional interval point of the stage show.

The only characters who were omitted were Dr. Scott and The Narrator, and, although obviously heavily abridged, the show actually told the story of The Rocky Horror Show pretty well and with respect for its source. Janet seductively slipped off her lab coat to reveal her white bra and frilly knickers as she got it on with Rocky for Toucha-Toucha-Toucha Touch Me, and Adrian Edmondson's cry of "That's it, it's over" went straight into Tim Curry's unmistakable tones for the Roxy's Planet Schmanet. Frank drugged his guests ready for the Floorshow, Riff and Magenta made their extra-terrestrial sign to each other, and we were ready for the fifth and final part in thirty minutes time.

The "Rocky Horror Night - Tonite At The Birdcage" projection, which had opened each part of the show so far, now gave way to a projection of red theatrical curtains with a sign pinned to them announcing tonight's Floorshow. Each cast member entered to the expected wolf whistles and applause, and Brad tore off his glasses and defiantly stuffed them down the front of his basque as he sang; a nice touch which hammered home his mixture of confusion and liberation.
After I'm Going Home, Riff and Magenta (in very 70s glam silver outfits and bright pink wigs) quickly finished off Columbia, Frank and Rocky, and, as they blasted off for Transexual, to the final strains of Superheroes, a perfectly appropriate projection of a B-movie flying saucer accompanied the music, as the cast took their bows and brought the show to a close.

While we're suffering the withdrawal between stage shows, it is comforting to know that Richard O'Brien's masterpiece is still entertaining people in some form. While I would never want to see the show itself revert back to a glitzy showy camp self parodying pantomime, it's important to remember that this is not the stage show or the movie (and we never expected it to be). David Dale has put together a hugely entertaining cabaret which most importantly treats The Rocky Horror Show with respect, while still not having to fully behave within the same parameters that the cast and director of the recent UK tour had to. Christmas Rocky Horror at The Birdcage is fun, fast and furious. It's beautifully choreographed, imaginatively conceived, well thought out and wonderfully played by all concerned. It looks and feels great, and, as someone who has genuinely loved The Rocky Horror Show for well over twenty years, I certainly approved of how my beloved favourite obsession has been treated here.

Rob Bagnall (December 2007).

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