The Rocky Horror Night at Frankenstein’s — now in its 17th year — is one of the staple nightlife experiences in Edinburgh. However, one’s enjoyment of the evening will be largely shaped by one’s taste for each of its elements, which may not be as expected. After all, the blurb for The Rocky Horror Night is vague and tantalisingly so. Important then to remember that this event never proclaims to be a ‘show’; it is a ‘night’, and what a night it could be.
More club night than cabaret, but fun nonetheless.
The event officially starts at 11pm, though the film version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is projected on large screens either side the bar from about 10pm. However, with bass-heavy club music pulsing thick in the air, this exists more for aesthetic purposes than anything functional. At around 11:15pm, the DJ announced to the room that Rocky Horror (with the head noun of neither ‘Night’ nor ‘Show’...) would be ‘coming up after this song’, this song being Michael Jackson’s Thriller, aptly. What did this mean? Had the event already started? The DJ’s set seemed to be an eclectic but generic mix of crowd-pleasing camp club bangers, but without any hint towards Rocky Horror. It soon became apparent, however, that Rocky Horror was not so much ‘coming’ as it was ‘climbing’, as the three performers mounted the bar in their starched white lab coats, wigs and ensemble eyewear.
The song drew to a close. A ripple of excitement coursed through the crowd. Rocky Horror was about to start.
The excitement was justified, but short lived. The trio performed the opening Science Fiction/Double Feature then Dammit Janet then dismounted the stage to rapturous applause in time for the DJ’s set to continue. The rest of the evening took largely the same format which, once one accepts that this is not supposed to be a show so much as a themed club night, is not such a bugbear. The DJ, acting as compere, introduced the characters at intervals throughout the night as though they were their own self-contained acts (‘put your hands together for the fabulous Riff-Raff!’) after which they would mount the bar and sing the ‘greatest hits’ of Rocky Horror. In terms of performance, a fan of Rocky Horror might well crave more. Thomas McFarlane and Leylah Watban as Brad and Janet respectively impressed vocally but failed to deliver on characterisation. The star of the show was— perhaps predictably— the fabulous Steven Crawford as Frank N Furter, although he too could have gone further. Cult classic lines could have been milked for more pay off and the iconic pause in ‘I see you shiver with anticipation’ was circumvented by audience heckles which Crawford ignored, powering through to the next line. The moment was dying for over-indulgence, begging to be left hanging until he judged it fit to hammer home the punchline. It was an opportunity missed.
Nevertheless, it is a rare day that a performer is able to make Tim Curry their backing dancer, and despite being flanked by the film’s silenced cast on the screens either side, all eyes were on Crawford whenever he graced the stage.
The stage itself was another issue. Performing on a tabletop is a fun gimmick but comes with its own theatrical restrictions. Songs such as Sweet Transvestite could have been vastly improved by some well-needed strutting along the bar, and a lack of choreography in general meant a lot of the songs seemed like good well-costumed karaoke rather than cabaret performances, with actors simply standing and singing the songs out to the audience. Furthermore, for an event with such a longstanding performance history, one would have thought the venue would construct an easier way to get and off the stage; having three performers clambering onto and off of the stage via footholds on a pillar is perhaps as far from slick (or safe) as could be imagined. However, again, this could have been used to the event’s advantage. There is something beautifully shambolic about all things Rocky Horror; I just wish this clunkiness had been leant into and acknowledged by the performers.
The venue, despite its limitations, was also the evening’s greatest asset. Perhaps the highlight of the night was when during I Can Make You A Man, the song was abruptly interrupted by thunderclaps and organ music as the famous Frankenstein automaton was lowered from the ceiling and brought to life, or rather ‘made a man’ by Frank N Furter. However this was the only moment at which a spectacle was made of the performance environment itself, which in such an iconic setting as Frankenstein’s, was a shame.
Ultimately, despite its theatrical setbacks, the event remains a fun fusion of nightclub and cabaret and it is easy to see how it achieved such longevity. On top of the fact that the event is free to enter, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and one to bear in mind when looking for a different calibre of night out.