In the Phnom Penh Players' staging of classic rock ‘n’ roll musical The Rocky Horror Show opening tonight, transvestite mad-scientist Frank N Furter sports a shock of electric blue hair along with his trademark pearl necklace.
The Rocky Horror Show, a parody of old-timey horror flicks written by a British-Kiwi playwright, has been performed in over 30 countries since its 1973 premier in London and the 1975 cult favourite film adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, counts as the longest-running film release of all time.
However, the local theatre company are determined to put their own stamp on the iconic production.
The cerulean doo was the idea of Paul de Havilland, an Australian expat and stay-at-home father, who is set to play the cross-dressing anti-hero during the run at the Russian Cultural Centre.
“It took three hours,” said de Havilland, a little proudly, of his smurf dyeing job. “And they didn’t even cut it!”
The cast has been regularly rehearsing in a cozy loft above Street 244’s Box Office bar, which the play’s burly director Paul Glew co-owns, since January.
“Why didn’t you do your eyebrows?” Glew quipped teasingly to de Havilland before a rehearsal last week, as the gathering cast conversed in a similarly cheeky vein, exhibiting the kind of warm banter common to a group intimately familiar with one another’s weirder side.
Indeed, there is a lot of strange in this play. Contained within are musical numbers with such titles as Sweet Transvestite, I Can Make You a Man and Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me. Skimpy outfits pervade the wardrobe and vulgarity the script. At least two cast members will strip down to their smalls during the show.
“It is crude. It is crass. There are things that are gonna make people flush,” said the mustached Glew. “This isn’t a kids’ show”.
The play centres on a pair of misfortunate newlyweds who, after getting caught in a ferocious storm, show up at the home of the gender-bending mad scientist in the midst of unveiling his newest creation: a muscled, tanned, unnaturally handsome beefcake named Rocky Horror (played in Phnom Penh by Martin Islas).
For Glew, who is making his directorial debut tonight, the play has been both an immense challenge and a personal pleasure. He was the one who pitched the show, a personal favourite of his, to the theatre group.
The Yorkshire-native first saw The Rocky Horror Show back in England when he was 15. Like other fans of the cult phenomena, he has seen it countless times since.
“If you’re a fan of Rocky Horror,” said Glew. “You’re gonna know that script as good as the cast.”
That, Glew added, was part of the reason that the play has been particularly intimidating for the Players. In contrast to Romeo and Juliet and the Vagina Monologues, which the group put on last year, Rocky Horror Show performances are known for their rowdiness.
Fans shout out lines in sync with actors and sing along with exaggerated gusto. While it was all encouraged, said Glew, it was nevertheless distracting for performers.
Another challenge was the sheer energy Rocky Horror demands from its 16-strong cast. There is lots of singing, dramatic theatrics and exhausting dance routines; some choreographies in the show last as long as nine minutes, Glew said.
“It’s a nuts performance. There is no halfway,” said the anxious director.
“But it is a hell of a show.”
The Rocky Horror Show will be playing six evening performances at the Russian Cultural Center on Norodom Boulevard from March 25 to April 2. Tickets can be purchased for $10 at the Willow Hotel, Garden Cafe, Box Office bar, Laneway Guest House and online at Your Phnom Penh.com. Proceeds will go to the advocacy NGO Rainbow Community Kampuchea.