Shock Treatment – King’s Head Theatre

Shock Treatment credit Peter Langdown (3)

Ben Kerr and Julie Atherton in Shock Treatment at the King’s Head Theatre, London. Picture: Peter Langdown

Shock Treatment continues at the King’s Head Theatre, London until 6 June.

Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★

Following the huge success of The Rocky Horror Show on stage, Richard O’Brien was able to capture the beast on celluloid although the movie originally failed to make much of an impact with the general public at the time. Despite this lukewarm reception, O’Brien went on to create a sequel of sorts, casting a few of the lesser-known names from the original movie – neither Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon nor Tim Curry were able to commit – and using a similar musical blueprint.

Shock Treatment, however, was a very different movie, satirising the rise of prurient reality TV and the dominance of corporate greed worldwide as epitomised by the sinister Farley Flavors. In many ways a far more cerebral movie, it absolutely bombed at the box office and barely made it through the video years. Needless to say, fate took over and as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and subsequent revivals of the stage version developed a cult following, interest in Shock Treatment increased.

This much anticipated stage adaptation created by O’Brien and Tom Crowley, takes the story down to its bare bones, cuts a selection of the minor characters and focuses on social satire tinged with more than a hint of cross-dressing and camp humour. The songs are easily as much fun as the Rocky Horror numbers, only less familiar to the uninitiated, but there are moments in Richard Hartley’s score that are evidently structured to ape the first work. ‘The Time Warp’ is replaced with Janet Majors’ anthem ‘Little Black Dress’ and ‘Farley’s Song’ is led up to in a suspiciously similar manner to ‘Sweet Transvestite’.

All this aside, O’Brien and Crowley’s adaptation of Shock Treatment still manages to stand alone as a piece of musical comedy. The surprisingly prescient story is told with humour, the songs are punchy and perhaps most importantly, you don’t really need to have seen Rocky Horror to enjoy this – although a passing knowledge will help.

Tarquin Productions’ impressive production, directed by Benji Sperring, plays to the gallery at every level from Alex Beetschen’s lively minimalist electric band through to Tim Shortall’s bright, white studio set and Xylona Appleton’s adventurous costume designs. If there is a problem, then it’s the sound balance. Each of the cast is fitted with radio mics in a tiny pub theatre and still many of the lyrics are lost to the sound of Beetschen’s band. Hopefully it’s an issue that will be sorted early in the run.

Liz Bichard’s casting throws some curve balls. The sublime Nic Lamont and Adam Rhys-Davies – aka subversive cabaret duo The Twins Macabre  – are marvellous value as the seedy, surgical brother and sister act, Nation and Cosmo McKinley. Mateo Oxley is a frenzy of barely closeted camp as ambitious TV host Ralph Hapschatt, while the mad-cap Rosanna Hyland slips easily into Ruby Wax’s stilettos – one of the comedienne’s few movie appearances – as his spurned wife Betty. Ben Kerr is perfectly adequate in what has become the rather slight role of Brad Majors.

Star casting is understandable for the role of Farley Flavors and the amiable Mark Little may capture the evil genius of Denton TV’s CEO but unfortunately he is no singer, a fact that lessens the impact of his entrance. Little is a great name to pull in comedy fans, but it will be interesting to see who takes over the role after 9 May.

To make-up for this minor flaw in the casting, Julie Atherton is on hand playing Janet Majors. Already hailed as a mistress of new musical theatre, Atherton’s comic ability – a mix of Madeleine Khan and Carol Burnett – is possibly unrivalled in the West End. Her interpretation of the score is superb and her comic creation is one of the best reasons to catch this production.

Paul Vale


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