In the Wardrobe Theatre’s signature style, The Rocky Shock is a mashup of two well-known shows, in this case two Rocky’s - Balboa and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To truly cement the sense of homage to the latter, the audience I was part of included some die-hard fans in glittery, garish dress-up, suggesting this show has a cult following comparable to the original in spirit if not in scale. There are plenty of other ways in which this show echoes Rocky Horror, not least in the sheer gratuitous flamboyance of the entire production. While the 1970s audience maybe have been shocked into submission by references to transvestitism and sexuality, the shock factor gets an update, 40 years on, proving our middle-class British audience is still not quite comfortable with outlandishly public displays of affection…
The plot, such as it is, sees rookie boxer and straightforwardly ‘nice guy’ Rocky Balboa, charmingly portrayed by Caitlin Campbell, challenged to the fight of his life by his hero, the champion Apollo Creed - all laced with Rocky Horror twists such as the fight being called in an abandoned gothic ice rink, and Creed himself an undeniable incarnation of Dr Frank N. Furter. The show feels at times more like a collection of sketches and set-pieces than an overarching narrative, with many of the scenes being deconstructed to the point of absurdity - a innuendo-laden episode where an audience member is required to remove a raw-meat hat from Creed’s head (‘pulled pork!’) felt like something straight out of The Mighty Boosh, for example.
While many of the jokes relied on knowledge of the films that inspired the show, and certainly the biggest cheers from the audience were in response to the appearance of familiar characters, there was plenty in the show for the uninitiated - indeed my companion for the evening didn’t get any of the references but still had a great time. While clearly very enjoyable for the performers - particularly show-stealing Alex Roberts as Apollo - the witty and often highly physical audience interaction also demanded an impressive amount of bravery - in many instances, the feats literally required big balls, such that I was grateful not to be sitting in the front row… Similarly impressive were the surprisingly sensitive and tuneful renderings of the company’s originally-devised songs - Rocky’s delightful melodies proved a particularly lovely surprise.
Aside from the innuendo, bodily functions and the occasional reference to modern-day politics (which managed to feel current even 2 years after the show was initially produced), much of the comedy was physical, showcasing the talent of the actors as well as director Tom Brennan’s vision. The frisson of Daniel Norford’s reactions, the cliché footwork of Campbell’s caricatured boxer, the spectacle of Kim Heron’s creepily jerky movements and backward-iceskating-multitasking, and the pantomime villainy of Roberts’ Creed were all expert touches brought together in a chortle-inducing concoction that brought the house down several times.
This show is an utterly joyful combination of the extremely adult with the unashamedly silly, and I can’t wait to discover what the talented folk at Wardrobe Theatre produce next.