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This wrap of shows around Melbourne includes a new production of The Rocky Horror Show starring Jason Donovan, a sharply compelling play about the realities of aged care, and Russell Crowe’s Indoor Garden Party.

The Rocky Horror Show ★★★½
The Athenaeum, until July 23

Why is Rocky Horror still popular half a century on – long after the sexual revolution, second-wave feminism, and gay liberation; long after the B-grade films it parodies have faded into obscurity? When I interviewed co-creator Richard O’Brien for the show’s 40th anniversary, he admitted its cult status – the sheer devotion it inspires in fans – was a mystery to him.

Loredo Malcolm in a scene from The Rocky Horror Show.Credit: Daniel Boud

I was one of those fans, and it’s a mystery to me, too.

As a teenage goth in the ’90s, I donned fishnets and suspenders and joined a throng of Transylvanians at the Valhalla for live action screenings of the film. The audience knew every line by heart, every move of the Time Warp. Ritual participation was expected, from throwing rice at the screen during the wedding scene to frequent, often lewd, audience interjections during the dialogue.

This community of freaks is transgenerational, I’m pleased to say, and Myf Warhurst’s Narrator egged us on at the Rocky Horror opening night. Unfortunately, she sometimes sounded like a children’s TV show host or a conscientious year 10 student addressing the class about her school project. Annoying, really.

Myf Warhurst as the Narrator engaged in a back and forth with the audience.Credit: Daniel Boud

Even Derryn Hinch knew enough about camp to take the frivolous with utmost seriousness. The Narrator’s faux gravitas is a must: Rocky is, after all, a cautionary tale about the dangers of falling in with narcissistic voluptuaries led by an alien transvestite with a God complex. (Or is it?)

The rest of the production is performed with vampy gusto. No one will ever measure up to Tim Curry’s saturnine charisma in the movie, to my mind, but Jason Donovan cuts an intriguing and precarious figure.

Where Curry as Frank N Furter could seduce the nipples off your chest, Donovan’s version of the character struts and leers and gives us an incarnation of a more pathetic creature. He still takes command of the stage during big numbers, but this Frank’s predatory antics inspire much more complicated feelings post-#MeToo.

Rocky Horror’s enduring cult status is a mystery even to its creator.Credit: Daniel Boud

The onstage power imbalance is striking and unsettling, and an element of self-critique of the musical theatre industry creeps into the performances.

Here we have a big-name celebrity (arguably a bit long in the tooth for the part) among a cast of young, super-talented up-and-comers giving it all they’ve got. And it’s brave of Donovan to lean into the meta-narrative to alter the show’s balance of sympathy.

I don’t think I’ve seen a production that makes you barrack harder for Frank’s victims than this one. For the muscled himbo (Loredo Malcolm) he creates as a sex slave. For the hapless sexual naifs Brad (Ethan Jones) and Janet (Deirdre Khoo) he molests. For the rock-loving bad-boy (Ellis Dolan) he charms then murders.

When crazed alien servitors Riff Raff (Henry Rollo) and Magenta (Stellar Perry) turn the death ray on their master, you’re totally on their side, partly because this Rocky is held together by the supporting cast.

In the end, their infectious energy, vocal ability, and talent for camp comedy do steal the show, and anyone who’s ever loved this subversive cult classic should have fun watching them do it.
Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead

Crocodiles ★★★★
Northcote Town Hall Arts Centre, until June 4

An elderly woman named Helen (Marta Kaczmarek) lies on a single bed. She is in a nursing home. Her children are beside her, trying their best to cajole her. Her memory is rapidly fading. She’s making incredibly absurd remarks while still seemingly retaining her faculties as brutally honest insights slip into the fray – it’s as though she’s taking advantage of her dying days to finally allow for true dementedness.

Crocodiles is compelling, scathing and humorous.Credit: Cameron Grant

Before long a support worker, Sandhya (Rachel Kamath), wheels her trolley in. She’s generally ignored, treated like a robot of sorts – a little distracting but totally necessary. The scene changes, and we’re witness to a hauntingly intimate conversation between Helen and Sandhya, who confide in each other even as they remain strictly within their socially-sanctioned roles.

Later, we encounter more private vulnerability: between friends and ex-colleagues Sandhya and Neela (Shamita Siva), as well as between Indian-Australian doctor Priya (Siva again, doing impressive double duty) and her white Australian boyfriend James (Tom Dent). Something bad is brewing under the surface.

This is multidisciplinary artist Vidya Rajan’s new play, Crocodiles, which takes a central conceit – how careworkers, international students, migrants and the dying are continually invisibilised in Australian society – and spins it into something entirely compelling, scathing, humorous.

It’s Rajan’s trademark by this point. Her extensive experience in screen and comedy writing comes in real handy here: the dialogue is terrific and timed to the T. At one point, Helen remarks, “They look like turnips,” referring to her breasts as Sandhya bathes her. When Neela expresses horror at how the elderly are treated in Australia compared to India – “We would never do this” – the pacing is akin to a repartee.

Of course, it’s not just good writing that makes a play enjoyable. Kaczmarek, Kamath and Siva play their roles with aplomb – we are completely immersed in their interiorities as they go about their (non-)lives: whether that’s simply speaking gibberish in bed, fretting about the future in an isolating yet stifling sharehouse or feigning optimism as temporary residents experiencing a state of limbo.

Rachel Kamath and Shamita Shiva in a scene from Crocodiles. Credit: Cameron Grant

When Crocodiles enters its final scene and ends, it takes one by surprise. There’s a sense it’s not quite finished, which as director Marcel Dorney warns before the show begins, it’s “still very much a work-in-progress”. Yet, it doesn’t appear as if the producers cut it off for lack of content. I’d love to see a next episode.
Reviewed by Cher Tan

Russell Crowe’s Indoor Garden Party ★★★½
Cherry Bar, May 24

The word “indulgence” springs to mind while watching Russell Crowe’s band Indoor Garden Party play live in the cramped confines of Cherry Bar – and not just because he has so recently been on the big screen as the Pope’s Exorcist.

Russell Crowe is clearly having the time of his life at Indoor Garden Party.Credit: Carbie Warbie

There’s a sense that Rusty is indulging his long-held rock god fantasies, that the band is indulging him, that the crowd of devotees and the merely curious is party to the whole exchange, and above all that this is only happening because Crowe has the means to bankroll it.

To all of which I would add, well good for him.

This show is way more fun than it should be. A mix of originals from this line-up and Crowe’s old unit, TOFOG (Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts) and an eclectic bunch of covers holds the interest, even if Rusty doesn’t always hold the note for which he is striving.

He departs the stage regularly for a break, and to give Irishwoman Lorraine O’Reilly the space to exhibit her considerable vocal chops. When he does, the vibe lifts from ambling pub rock to aspiring stadium.

The five-piece band is tight, and the four female backing singers (O’Reilly and three others Crowe introduces only as “The Lady Garden”, to the chagrin of one woman in the crowd who yells “they have names, you know”) smooth over the cracks in Crowe’s delivery.

Russell Crowe performs at Cherry Bar on May 24, 2023.Credit: Carbie Warbie

The trumpet and keys add a level of production you might not expect in a room of this size. The choice of covers – Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet, Nick Cave’s Into My Arms, Simon & Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade of Winter, Leonard Cohen’s Take This Waltz – are played brilliantly by the band, and make the whole thing feel like the most high-end karaoke night a man could wish for.

It says everything that when Crowe comes back onstage and gives the audience a choice of a song or a story they overwhelmingly opt for the latter. He delivers a rambling but well-told tale of having a tarantula crawl up his body and into his mouth, over and over, on a film set. It gets a big laugh and then he’s off singing again in his raspy way, clearly having the time of his life.

By the time the night wraps with a rollicking rendition of Folsom Prison Blues, which Crowe informs us he used to play regularly as a busker in Sydney in his teens, it’s pretty obvious everyone else is having a ball too.
Reviewed by Karl Quinn

Indoor Garden Party is on at Hotel Esplanade on May 25.

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