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Rocky Horror Show hits middle age
Taking on The Rocky Horror Show’s most iconic role was a challenge relished by West End favourite Oliver Thornton, as he tells MATT OLIVER
Back in 1973 Richard O’Brien couldn’t have possibly known how popular and enduring his now cult stage show would turn out to be.
And yet, 40 years later, The Rocky Horror Show is still what he described as “a night out... to remember for a very long time.”
To mark the occasion, it is embarking on a celebratory tour around the UK, coming to the New Theatre tomorrow night. And leading the charge is West End favourite Oliver Thornton, pictured, playing the iconic role of transvestite-alien-scientist Dr Frank N Furter.
Big shoes to fill then? “Preparing for the role and overcoming the expectations that came with it was a big challenge,” Oliver agrees. “I was very intimidated by the prospect of having to follow my predecessors who had done such a good job, particularly Tim Curry, whose version of the role is just so iconic.
“But, ultimately, you still have to start from scratch, because you will never be able to do a carbon copy of someone else.
“So while in my performance there are nods to previous versions, I hope I bring my own voice to it.”
Loving every second of the part, Oliver is still able to distance himself from his larger-than-life character: “I think we can all identify with the appeal of hedonism,” he explains. “But hedonism is Frank N Furter’s downfall as well, and you’ve got to show that because the audience has to love him and find him endearing as well. Otherwise he’s just weird.”
So does Oliver identify with his alter ego? “Personally, I’m quite different. I like boundaries and I can see Frank N Furter’s way of life doesn’t work in the end.
“Real life always catches up with you. But I do love the character and that makes a big difference, although at the end of the performance I’m always happy to leave him at the theatre door.”
Having a wonderful time on tour, it’s interesting then that Oliver originally had second thoughts about doing the tour at all. “I didn’t think I’d enjoy it,” he says. “I resisted it at first, because I’m a bit of a home bird who loves his creature comforts. But it’s been really amazing. We’ve been going all over the UK, selling out over and over again and it’s been a crazy, wild time,” he smiles.
Looking forward to coming to Oxford, the Welsh lad loved playing to his home crowd the best: “One of my favourite shows was Cardiff because it’s near to where I grew up. It was good to go back for a bit and on the night the Welsh really did us proud!”
In terms of longevity however it looks like The Rocky Horror Show could just run and run, as it’s still enjoying a huge cult following and raunchy-status even today. So what’s it got that has let it stand the test of time? “I think the enduring appeal lies in the feeling that Richard O’Brien tapped into during the ‘70s about freedom of expression,” Thornton muses. “A newfound kind of sexual expression.The show is about celebrating being different and that’s why people still love it.
“We still get people turning up in fancy dress and yelling out from the stalls – and that’s what it’s all about. It’s a great opportunity to let your hair down with a bit of rock’n’roll and have a crazy, wild night out.
“So while you may wonder what was going on in the writer’s head at the time, it is an experience like no other. It allows you to forget real life, your mortgage and all your other worries for a while, and embrace the chaos.”
The Rocky Horror Show is at the Oxford New Theatre from August 27-31. For more information,
or to book, visit atgtickets.com/oxford or call 0844 8713020.
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