Why we never fell out of love with the Rocky Horror Show

It's regarded as camp fun, but The Rocky Horror Show, in Leeds next week, started life edgy and avant garde. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad reports.

When he received the call asking if he wanted to take on the iconic role of The Narrator in The Rocky Horror Show, Charlie Condou was confused.

“I’m about 30 years too young for a start,” he says. “It’s a role usually played by comedians of a certain age. Norman Pace and Steve Punt have been playing it on tour and I’m younger than them, so I don’t really know why they asked me. Maybe they made a mistake?” Condou quickly adds that if it was a mistake, hopes it’s one the producers won’t move to rectify. He’s having far too much fun in the show.

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The Rocky Horror Show might these days be considered a bit of a theatrical camp fun, but it should be remembered that it began life as a seriously avant garde, edgy piece of work. Richard O’Brien’s musical was unlike anything that had been seen in British theatre.

“Who could have possibly guessed that this tiny cult play that was upstairs at the Royal Court would become this cultural behemoth?” says Condou. With songs like Science Fiction/Double Feature and the classic disco hit Time Warp, the musical continues to be a popular success as it tours the country. It arrives in Leeds, appropriately on All Hallows’ Eve.

A feature of the production in recent years has been the well-known names cast in the show and in particular in the role of The Narrator. Unlike most theatre productions, the role requires someone who can not just act on stage, but interact with the audience from the stage.

At The Rocky Horror Show anarchy reigns and the audience is actively encouraged to shout out famous catchphrases or on the spot invented bon mots. It’s why Nicholas Parsons, who famously stood on stage in a dinner jacket, bow tie and stockings as the Narrator was a perfect choice for the role.

“It’s not like anything I’ve ever done before,” says Condou.

“I’m so used to ignoring the audience. I’ve done a lot of theatre and the last thing you do is talk to the audience. In this show, not only do you talk to them, they talk back to you and the worst bit is, you have no idea what they’re going to say. It means you really are doing a new show every night.

“It’s a bit like doing stand-up to a room full of hecklers, except they’re not really heckling because they’re really on your side. They’re not trying to trip you up, they want to be involved. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a job.”

When he first stepped into the shoes – or indeed stockings – of the likes of Parsons, Candou, best known as Marcus Dent in Coronation Street, was prepared but scared. “It’s terrifying. The first time you go on stage you have your lines and you have some ideas of responses to what the audience might shout, but it is very scary at first,” he says. Having had a nine-month break to record a part for a TV show, he’s back and is clearly delighted to be in the Narrator’s skimpy underwear.

“It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. You try to explain it to people and prepare them by telling them what it is, but it just doesn’t work. You just have to see it.”

The Rocky Horror Show, Leeds Grand Theatre, October 31 to November 5. Tickets 0844 8482700.