views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Shock Treatment
The King's Head Theatre
21st April 2015


Ben Kerr and Julie Atherton as Brad and Janet

Photography provided by The King's Head

The first time I saw The Rocky Horror Show, people threw stuff at me. Apparently that's what is meant to happen, it's a "cult" thing. Hmmm. Now, the last time I saw a stage adaptation of a film at the King's Head, there were bodily fluids being flung in the air. You can imagine my slight trepidation at attending the world premiere of Shock Treatment on stage, particularly as the film isn't nearly as well-known as its predecessor. However, even though Shock Treatment has so many of the hallmarks of Rocky Horror it also has a few differences. And I am all for theatre where you don't have to shower immediately afterwards.

Married couple Janet (Julie Atherton) and Brad (Ben Kerr) have had a somewhat difficult time of it lately. If you can recall, they've lived through infidelity at the hands of a cross-dressing alien. However, it turns out that there are even harder challenges to overcome than those. Brad has lost his job, and well, being a husband is apparently far more soul-destroying than catching your wife-to-be in bed with someone she's just met. Uh-huh. Luckily for the pair, unhappily hitched friends Betty (Rosanna Hyland) and Ralph (Mateo Oxley) are coincidentally now the stars of a relationship makeover show, and they think they can fix Janet and Brad's troubles on air. So far, so ridiculous. But the deliberate absurdity escalates when rival presenters Cosmo (Adam Rhys-Davies) and Nation (Nic Lamont) pinch a battered Brad for their own programme and think they have the solution: a controversial shock treatment.

With a book by Jim Sharman, music by Richard Hartley and lyrics by Richard O'Brien, the show has the same feel as Rocky Horror. It's camp, it's creepy, it's high energy and made up of characters playing characters - all understood perfectly by director Benji Sperring and choreographer Lucie Pankhurst who exacerbate the humour with daft movement, deadpan delivery and wonderful timing. The music and lyrics perhaps aren't as iconic as O'Brien's previous work - early number Denton, U.S.A. is a bit of an earworm and Little Black Dress is vaguely reminiscent of Time Warp with lots of simple repetition and easy to mimic gestures. Apart from those two however, there's not a lot that stays with you.

Channel boss Farley Flavors (Mark Little) is devilishly slimy but Little doesn't have the same vocal quality as the rest of the cast. Atherton in particular belts out her numbers beautifully. But it doesn't really matter - just as the lyrics often being swallowed by loud orchestration is forgiveable. Musical director Alex Beetschen and his band sometimes fight with the performers (and win), but there's so much exuberance in their playing, you don't mind. Shock Treatment is meant to be fun: unsettling, sure, but fun, and it's more important that sense of whimsy comes across. The audience don't know this show off by heart, but you get the feeling they want to see it again very many times and pretty soon, they'll be singing along throughout so why does it matter if you can't quite hear the words? They'll soon fill them in themselves. Venue AD Adam Spreadbury-Maher suggests history is being made and well, he might have a point. This is the first time that Tom Crowley's adaptation is being staged and it has every chance of becoming a firm hit.

Shock Treatment is a smart adaptation of a largely - and unfairly - ignored cult flick. O'Brien's involvement may solely be limited to the original lyrics, but you really get a sense that his style is all over this piece. If you're a fan of Rocky Horror, this will not disappoint. And if you're late to the party, you don't need to know the story to follow and enjoy this sequel, whilst it does continue a storyline and reintroduce established characters, it can happily stand on its own.

Between ran from 17th April to 6th June 2015 at the King's Head Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)

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