Having seen the Janus Theatre Company productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, perhaps my expectations were simply too high for Mephistopheles Smith. I had hoped for a full-on Rocky Horror style experience. I thought I was going to be at the birth of a new cult show to sweep the country. Sadly, my hopes were dashed.
Mephistopheles Smith started as just three songs, written and performed by Richard O'Brien at a Rocky Horror convention in 1992. It was performed for the first time in Edinburgh in 1995, and then in London in 1996. Then it was locked in a box and never performed again until Janus persuaded O'Brien himself to let them re-work the original and stage it on tour.
There's not much of a plot, as such, to Mephistopheles; it's more of a sermon for the Devil punctuated by appropriately wicked songs. In the title roll, Paul Roberts (former lead singer with The Stranglers), does an admirable job of banging out the lyrics, but unfortunately lacks the charisma of Richard O'Brien to convincingly hold together the evangelist dialogue that weaves this piece together.
Roberts shares the stage with two Devilettes, Francesca Casey and Roxanne Palmer. Their attempts to whip the crowd up into a frenzy fell a little flat, and their ad libs during Roberts' sermons just got a bit distracting after a while. I suspect the script calls for a sultry pair of vixens in the role. I wasn't buying it.
I could imagine a production that had Richard O'Brien as the lead would be quite something. This production, however, was a bit of a disappointment given the Janus & O'Brien pedigree.