As The Rocky Horror Show wends its way to Sheffield once again, it seems fair to ponder what possesses a classical actor and director like Philip Franks to step into the Time-Warp.
The answer is simple says the man returning to the role of The Narrator. “It’s such fun to do, the audience are very involved, people dress up and join in, and it’s great to see people having such a good time.
“As with any amount of serious theatre, this is very much a part of the acting thing. I don’t think there has been a show I have been in that hasn’t ended up with the audience on their feet. That’s a wonderful thing to see.”
In 2014 he spent a year in the show for the 40th anniversary tour after being approached by director Christopher Luscombe.
“I thought I have never done a musical, and never anything approaching stand-up and I am terrified of both of them,” he recalls. “It’s not often at this stage of your life you get offered something completely outside your comfort zone and so I thought that’s a good reason for doing it.”
Now he is joining the cast midway through the tour and makes his first appearance in Sheffieldnext week.
“They seem to have quite a lot of faith in me in that they have given me precisely one day’s rehearsal in Wimbledon where the poor old cast are dragged in to do things they can do in their sleep with me and I am just crossing my fingers that it is all going to come flooding back. “
But in any case so much of The Narrator’s role is ad-libbing so rehearsing can only take you so far.
“They say people will shout at you at this point but you can’t be prepared for what they actually do,” he continues. “So it is completely terrifying but after a while it is exhilarating too. Every actor says oh I really want to have close contact with the audience but this is really having your bluff called. They scream abuse at everything you say and it is up to you to be prepared to come back without losing your nerve or your temper but to think they are here to have a good time and I will try and help.”
Since it first opened in London in June 1973 at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show has been performed in more than 30 countries and translated into over 20 languages, building up a loyal fan base helped by musical favourites such as Sweet Transvestite, Science Fiction/Double Feature, Dammit Janet and the timeless floor-filler, The Time-Warp.
Franks can vouch for its international appeal. “At the end of 2016/17 I did a short stint which took the show to Italy. I thought it was going to be quite a dull experience apart from the tourist side, I had never been to Rome or to Trieste, how wonderful. But as a show it won’t be, at least from my point of view, because the fun of my character is talking to the audience.
“I thought well I don’t speak Italian but we have Google at our disposal so I learned a whole series of Italian phrases and used them in the show and that proved to be a good idea.
“The audience were very surprised to hear this hopeless Italian and delighted I had made the effort. Once I started I was on Google Translate learning a stream of obscenities. I know exactly what to say near the Vatican to get myself arrested.”
As for Britain, audience reactions differ: “Quieter in the South, louder in the North, brutal in the Midlands.” he opines.
Experiencing it this time around are Strictly Come Dancing champion Joanne Clifton and a1’s Ben Adams as Janet and Brad, the newly engaged innocents sheltering from a storm in the house of mad transvestite scientist, Dr Frank-N-Furter (Stephen Webb) who has created a Frankenstein-style monster called Rocky.
Franks will leave the Rocky tour in May. “As soon as my Rocky stint is over I am going to be in York directing The Tempest in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre which is popping up for a second year.”
It is one of four Shakespearean plays running in rep with different directors but with a shared cast.
The actor fondly remembered from TV’s Darling Buds of May and Heartbeat doesn’t do much screen work these days. He had a small part in the 2017 Paul Thomas Anderson film, Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day Lewis .
“Theatre is very much my world. I directed Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art with Matthew Kelly which hopefully we are taking to New York in 2020.”
He knows Sheffield well, having directed Macbeth at the Crucible in 1995 and a National Theatre production of The Heiress at the Lyceum, among several touring productions he has been involved in that have come here.
He is also looking forward to re-uniting with Sheffield Theatres artistic director who he directed as a young actor.
The Rocky Horror Show is at the Sheffield Lyceum from Monday to Saturday, February 19-23.