I have always had a love for the Rocky Horror Show so when I heard about The Stripper, a musical by the team behind Rocky Horror, needless to say I was excited. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect upon arriving at the St James Theatre but I think Frank N. Furter and co now have a major rival for my musical affections.
As I settled into place in the gorgeous St James Studio, I was struck by the intimate atmosphere arranged for this show. The first two rows are set out as small bar-like tables, similar to the one centre-stage, at which our lead Detective Al Wheeler sits during the pre-show. We quickly learn that, if there even is a fourth wall, it is several feet behind us and we are sat in the bar with the rest of the cast, in on the ride from the off. The set and costumes are simple but effective, establishing the wheres and whens quickly and clearly.
Hot off the back of his fantastically received production of The Toxic Avenger, Benji Sperring’s direction is fast, efficient and very funny, making full use of the limited space of the studio. Alex Beetschen’s band immediately bring to life the jazz-derived bar and keep the energy up throughout.
Richards Hartley and O’Brien’s music is great, an enjoyable blend of Rocky Horror and City of Angels in tone and sound and suitably accompanies Carter Brown’s book with equal amounts of humour.
Sperring has arranged a stellar cast. Sebastien Torkia, as Al Wheeler, is the audience’s guide to the show, with plenty of comedic asides and a fine voice. A particular highlight is his raiding of the audience in ‘There’s Many a True Word Said in Bed’. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of seeing Gloria Onitri in a national tour of Clybourne Park in which she shone. Her performance in The Stripper as Dolores Keller, and an early cameo as Patty Keller, is wonderful. Her voice is rich, earthy and well controlled and she glows with the intelligence so frequently attributed to ‘Deadpan’ Dolores.
The three remaining cast members play triple duty as they multi-role the rest of the ensemble of curious characters. Michael Steedon sings well and moves brilliantly, particularly during Cry On, a rather disturbing number which hints at a darkness in Jacob Arkwright, one of his characters, that I wish had been even further explored. Marc Pickering and Hannah Grover are a pair of total chameleons. Grover roves through a veritable atlas of accents from across the globe and really masters the quick change between a range of vastly different roles – a delight to watch. Marc Pickering steals the show as Harvey Stern, an insatiable Lothario hidden under the guise of a super-neurotic florist, particularly during I Confess.
I would highly recommend catching this show while you can. It is a wonderfully smart and delightfully funny noir-style romp which should leave you with split sides and tapping toes.
Review by Ben Powell
The cast is Hannah Grover (Annabelle/ Sherry Mendez/ Sarah Arkwright), Gloria Onitiri (Deadpan Dolores/ Patty Keller), Marc Pickering (Sheriff/ Miles Rovak/ Harvey Stern), Michael Steedon (Doc Murphy / Jacob Arkwright/ Steve Loomas) and Sebastien Torkia (Al Wheeler).
The year is 1961, the place is Pine City, California, and some broad is threatening to throw herself off the top of the fanciest hotel in town. There’s trouble brewing and Lieutenant Al Wheeler wants answers. First stop, Club Extravaganza where we meet delectable Deadpan Dolores. Her name says it all… she’s not shy, so what’s she hiding? As Wheeler is thrust into a sleazy underworld of strip-joints and lost lonely hearts, the truth isn’t the only thing he uncovers.
St James Theatre Studio
19 Palace Street, London , SW1E 5JA
Booking Until: 13th August 2016