Philip brings the audience to heel

Rocky Horror Show 40th Anniversary Production, with Philip Franks second from left''Lyceum Sheffield April 15-20
Rocky Horror Show 40th Anniversary Production, with Philip Franks second from left''Lyceum Sheffield April 15-20
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The Rocky Horror Show has been revamped for a 40th anniversary tour. Ian Soutar talks to an actor who finds himself in the thick of it

IN recent years when The Rocky Horror Show has come on tour to Sheffield it has featured various celebrity guests in the role of the Narrator from Christopher Biggins to former police chief John Stalker.

But when the 40th Anniversary Production arrives at the Lyceum Theatre next week the part which involves bantering with the audience will be in the hands of a classical actor, Philip Franks.

The show has been revamped by director Christopher Luscombe with a new design and an all new cast.

“He was keen that the Narrator should be a character who was part of the company right through the rehearsal period rather than someone coming in for a few weeks and going on carrying a book - and he asked me,” says Franks.

The two had worked together on a tour of The History Boys last year and Franks is also an associate director for Theatre Royal Brighton Productions of which Luscombe is artistic director.

“I had never done a musical but wanted to direct one so it was a great opportunity to see the making of one from the inside but I must admit I was a bit scared,” says Franks.

That was because it combined “the three things I am most frightened of - karaoke, stand-up comedy and musicals”.

As an actor Philip Franks is probably best known for television appearances, wooing Catherine Zeta Jones in The Darling Buds of May back in the early Nineties and later a long stint as Sgt Charley Craddock in Heartbeat but in recent years directing (one of his earliest productions was Macbeth at the Crucible in Sheffield back in 1995) has taken over his career.

“Up until this came along it was 70/30 in favour of directing. I have been at Chichester for the past six or seven years but their programme has been massively scaled down because it is being refurbished.

So it has been really nice getting back to just acting.”

But it hasn’t been just acting, surely, more like being a stand-up comic at times performing in front of a rowdy audience.

“It’s not like being heckled at a comedy club,” he insists, “it’s to do with what the show has become. It has a huge following and people dress up and they don’t want to shout it down but be a part of it.

“I am not a naturally rude person, but I don’t think it would be right anyway to try and put them down. You have to find a way of taking on board what they say and coming back with something in the same vein.

“It’s a slightly different experience every night and different from place to place from Glasgow, say to Aylesbury. There’s nowhere more southern middle-class than that but they were brilliant and very vocal and rowdy. there’s a spontaneity to it which I like.”

Had Franks seen the show and knew what to expect beforehand?

“I saw Tim Curry in it on the Kings Road when I was 15 and thought it was the naughtiest thing in the world. It was a much more intimate thing to what it is now which is a party event and that’s largely on the back of the film.”

The show’s creator from all those years ago, Richard O’Brien, has been involved in anniversary productions. “He came to see us, first during the run-through, and then on opening night in Brighton he turned up on stage in high heels and tights and the audience went wild.”

Franks says he has enjoyed the experience enough to extend his commitment to the tour up to the summer

The Rocky Horror Show is at the Lyceum Theatre from Monday to Saturday.