I’m just a sweet transvestite
It had to happen someday. After 20 years in show business, I’ve finally done it. I’ve dipped my toe into the ‘fabulous’ world of musical theatre. I am starring in The Rocky Horror Show, the global musical phenomenon that is currently on yet another sell-out world tour. For a man who normally makes his living writing travel books and annoying members of the public while dressed as a squirrel, this is quite the departure for me.
I remember the first time I saw Rocky Horror. It was the film as opposed to the stage show. It was on late at night at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill Gate in London. Someone had invited me along and I might have been a touch tipsy with no idea what to expect. It was insane. People in the audience were dressed up, throwing rice, opening umbrellas and hurling perfectly-timed comic barbs at the cross-dressing, sci-fi madness on screen. I’d never seen anything like it.
The tradition of the audience involvement in the show comes from when the musical was made into the film. It was not brilliantly edited to put it mildly. The final cut left long clunky gaps between the dialogue and this allowed audience members to start throwing in their own funny comments. These have almost become a script in themselves and the practise has now transferred to the live show. I have essentially signed up for a nightly wall of well-honed abuse from an audience that know the show far better than anybody on stage.
If I’m honest, before this experience, I was never much of a fan of musicals. My personal involvement was a small part in Pirates of Penzance and a slightly bigger one In Oh What a Lovely War, but this was back at school when it was basically a good way to meet girls. The only professional musical that I remember going to and enjoying was Evita. I think that my main problem with the genre is that I’ll be enjoying a good story when somebody suddenly starts singing for no particular reason and nobody ever references it. I long for someone on stage to look puzzled and say “sorry, what are you doing?” It never happens of course. Musicals are fantasy and escapism and people love them. Mine is a very minority position.
So, when I was asked to consider being in the show, I did hesitate. Was this really for me? In the end, like most of my career decisions I just closed my eyes and jumped in. And boy, am I happy I did.
Firstly, I didn’t realise just how funny the show is. It’s genuinely hysterical. On top of that I realised that, despite having only seen the film once, I knew all the songs and they rock.
My first day was with the costume people who were anxious to fit me with a comfortable pair of high heels. Photos of this fitting caused quite some consternation with my children whom, I think assumed that dad was going through a ‘change’.
It’s so nice to be part of a group. A lot of my work, both writing and TV is quite solitary. I’m perfectly happy with that as I rather like my own company but it is great to be part of a bigger whole and to be able to share the performing experience with others (Oh God… it’s happening… I’m becoming a luvvie).
The thing I love the most about it, however, is that The Rocky Horror Show is all about the outsider, the misfit, with a message that says it’s OK to be weird. I think that outside the London bubble, in more conservative places where it might be more difficult for people to find their ‘tribe’ this is a massively important thing. I speak, of course, as an ex Goth and somebody that could have very much done with this kind of thing growing up. Fellow cast members tell me amazing stories about emails or letters they get from people who have seen the show and the effect that it had on them. In a sense the Rocky Horror Show is a safe space within which people can channel their inner freak and that is something worth shouting/singing about.
The Rocky Horror Show tour starts in Brighton (until January 5), before moving on to 26 other venues, including Oxford (March 25-30) and Bristol (June 17-22). Visit rockyhorror.co.uk for full tour details.
Dom embracing his ‘inner freak’, while actually looking rather dapper, during his fitting for The Rocky Horror Show