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What's On, Culture, Theatre

Rocky Horror Returns

to Oxford

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Sam Bennett

Directed by Christopher Luscombe and featuring timeless classics – including ‘Sweet Transvestite’, ‘Damnit Janet’, and of course, the pelvic-thrusting ‘Time Warp’ – Richard O’Brien’s legendary Rocky Horror Show returns to the UK as part of a sell-out worldwide tour in 2019, having now been seen by over 30 million theatregoers. This classic musical extravaganza will star Blue singer and Hollyoaks actor Duncan James as Frank-N-Furter and a1’s Ben Adams as Brad. Philip Franks will be The Narrator and Kristian Lavercombe will also be reprising his role as Riff Raff, following more than 1,300 performances in The Rocky Horror Show around the world. Janet will be portrayed by Strictly Come Dancing champion Joanne Clifton, who talked to Sam Bennett about knee problems, cycling mishaps and Rocky Horror pressure.

I last met you at a press preview day for the tour of Flashdance, which I later saw in Oxford. You played Alex Owens and were fabulous. How pleased were you with how that tour went?

Very pleased. I felt it was a perfect role for me. It showed me off in all three areas: singing, acting and dancing – I’m extremely grateful for that. The tour was extended because it went so well and now I believe it has been performed on stage in five additional countries after its success in the UK.

Did anything about it surprise you?

I guess just the fact that it was so physically demanding and I only went off on one day in the 16 months. I’m 35 now, with knee problems; thankfully the energy, love, insane cast members and audiences got me through the shows.

I know you were apprehensive about the cycling you had to do in it – were there any dodgy moments in that area?

Yes, I can’t ride a bike. I scootered around the stage for 16 months. I got a little daring once, took both feet off the floor and BAM! Fell off sideways.

You’re very much in a musical theatre zone at the moment, have you ever felt like people have wanted to keep you in a ‘Strictly-Come-Dancing-dancer’ box?

I think Strictly has been a wonderful platform for me, it has helped me more than anyone can imagine so I’ll always be grateful for that. Of course I will be known as a dancer but I’d like to think eventually I can get away from the ‘just a dancer’ thing because people will see that I am also trained in singing and acting.

Is there more camaraderie working in theatre than television?

I have felt like I’m part of a family both on Strictly and in the theatre. Ultimately no one is bigger than the show itself. Whether it’s TV or theatre everyone involved works their hardest to make the show as good as it can be.

Moving on to Rocky Horror, does the fact it’s got such a cult following take the pressure off in any way?

There was actually more pressure. The audience know the script so if you get a word wrong, they’ll shout out, “Learn the script!” The show has been going for 45 years so they’ve seen lots of different people playing the roles, including Susan Sarandon in the film... so I’d say there’s quite a lot of pressure.

You’re working alongside Ben Adams again. Did you learn a lot from each other during Flashdance and do you reckon that will continue as the Rocky Horror tour progresses?

Ben and I had an immediate connection and have become the best of friends. We know each other inside out after being together 24/7 for about two years now. So the chemistry on stage is good. We know every little move each other will make. Plus we’ve used our time on tour to write a new musical called Bloody Nora which we can’t wait to get up on its feet.

How far removed is Janet from Joanne Clifton?

Not much actually. I would consider myself the girl next door but I also have an animalistic side… maybe not in the way Janet has. As far as my career is concerned I am determined and competitive.

On 8 March we celebrated International Women’s Day – how does Rocky Horror champion women?

There’s some fab female characters in Rocky Horror. I’m so grateful that I’m playing Janet because it’s all about her owning herself as a woman and not just being defined by all the men around her.

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show runs at New Theatre Oxford 25 -30 March. Click here for tickets.

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