Aylesbury theatregoers misbehave ‘quite a bit’

The audiences at the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury are usually very well-behaved. They watch quietly, dress appropriately, applaud in the right places and don’t shout out during the performance. That all changed on Monday, when the Rocky Horror Show began its six-night run at the theatre.

Over the fifty years that Rocky Horror Show has been touring, audience misbehaviour has become commonplace. Thousands of people turn up – some in elaborate costumes – to experience a performance in which they are as much part of the show as the actors on stage. For that reason, our review is in two parts. Firstly, we’ll review the production.

I suspect that the cast of the Rocky Horror show wonder how they manage to have so much fun on stage and then get paid as well. The clue is in the quality of the production: It’s a slick show, with a great cast, immaculate timing and characters that are a gift to the talented actors in the show. The scenery, effects and staging complemented the quality of the acting – the lighting was exceptional (squint your eyes when the bright lights shine into the audience towards the end of the show; the combination of lights and smoke in the next scene is eerily spectacular).

Aylesbury has had some excellent musical acts on, but bands supporting a musical often get unnoticed. That’s unlikely with Rocky Horror. You can’t miss the driving rock fanfare that kicks off the fun. Sadly, you can’t easily see the band as they are at the back of the stage on a raised platform. If you look carefully, you can just see how badass they are – they even had to lock their drummer away in a Perspex cage.

An important element of the show is the narrator, played on Monday by Phillip Franks. This role requires lightning wit and a steady nerve. He comes on stage, a dapper and refined gentleman, holding a leather-bound story book from which he reads. He doesn’t get past many lines of narration before hecklers in the audience start shouting lewd comments every time he takes the slightest pause. Other hecklers join in, and it continues through most of the show. A lot of these exchanges have been established throughout the long life of the show and are now enshrined in Rocky Horror folklore. Phillip sets himself up for heckles with immaculate timing. Some of the innuendos are quite subtle, others are more ‘in your face’.

Now, the Audience: If you have been to a previous production of Rocky Horror, you won’t be surprised when you walk in to take your seat. A large section of the audience – almost certainly the first five or six rows – are dressed, shall we say, eccentrically. If you are new to the show (known as ‘virgins’ to members of the Rocky Horror fan club), you’ll be wondering why loads of people in the front rows of the stalls are wearing fishnet stockings and corsets…? It’s part of the fun. Dressing up and being outrageous is perfectly OK and tolerated by the Waterside Theatre staff. Having said that, nobody will look at you oddly if you want to dress fairly conventionally. Just don’t wear a suit, anorak or a stripey sweatshirt.

You won’t get more than a few minutes into the show before you get drawn into the rude, slapstick humour and want to join in with some of the opportunities for audience participation. It’s not for everybody, but we sat two seats away from the Mayor of Aylesbury and he obviously felt relaxed enough to join in, despite wearing stockings. Publicity material supporting the production, claims the show has been seen by 30 million people. It’s more likely that a million people have seen it thirty times each. Clearly, Rocky Horror is addictive!

This is not a show for the faint hearted or those of a prudish disposition. Most ordinary people will find it quite outrageous, but in a sniggering, juvenile sort of way. It’s not suitable for children and don’t take your mother with you if she is over 96.

Special training is available for ‘virgins’ wanting to understand what the heck is going on, but you can also get help from websites run by fan clubs such as the one at http://www.timewarp.org.uk