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Rocky at Forty: Oliver Thornton plays Frank 'N 'Furter

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Next in this interview series, I talked to Oliver Thornton about his role as Frank, and why he keeps on turning up on stage in high heels!

I understand that you’ve had a very varied stage career, including a long stint in drag, haven’t you?
Well, yes. I’ve done Les Miserables, Chicago, Rent Remixed and Phantom in the West End and Starlight Express on tour, but I also did Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for three years as well. Can you believe that?

So you’re no stranger to appearing on stage in lingerie then!
No. I vowed, when I finished Priscilla, that I was going to go into something very serious and not put the fishnets and heels back on – but I got offered the role and I just couldn’t say no. I just felt I had to do it. It really has such a draw.

I have to say that I really surprised myself because I very much like my home comforts and the thought of going out on such a huge tour terrified me but, again, the draw of Frank pulled me out of that comfort zone as well. I think it’s just one of those roles that, if you are lucky enough to get offered it, you just have to say yes.

And, of course, you’re following in some mighty footsteps!
Oh no, please don’t say the “T” word!

Well, I wasn’t just thinking of Tim Curry, but David Badella has had the part for a while now as well.
Yes, he did it for four years. I went to see him doing it and he was just superb. I suppose that the thing is, I mean, of course I’m completely terrified – who wouldn’t be – but I really believe in Chris Luscombe, our director. I think he is just fantastic.

When I met him, after he called me to ask if I would be interested in doing it, I knew after just five minutes of being with Chris that I would be in good hands. He’s fantastic and I really respect the fact that he’s taking it seriously as well because I think that it’s what this show needs.

It’s for the audience to enjoy but for us to – kind of – take seriously, in terms of telling the story and all of those things that come with putting on a good production. So I trust that he saw something in me to make him think I could do it and I trust that it will be a fantastic version of the show and I’ll do my very best to do it justice.

Chris’s last two productions – Dandy Dick and Blue/Orange – were just spectacular.
I went to see his production of Spamalot this week and it’s a great show, but the thing that I loved so much about it was that the direction was so efficient. There was nothing in there where you felt like maybe they didn’t know what they were doing. It was all so clear.

Everything was “bang on the money” and I think that’s where he really succeeds. There’s nothing in there that you, as an audience member, might feel was lost. Chris has got a really clear vision and that’s what we need as actors. We need the director to come to the table with a really strong vision of what he thinks, and what he wants, and then we create it around that.

So, you’re not worried about popping the high heels back on again then?
Well, after three years it’s nothing new to me so I’m giving Ben Forster (Brad) lots of lessons. When I first did Priscilla, I was completed terrified about wearing them. I had never ever done any form of... well actually Rocky Horror isn’t drag, whereas Priscilla is much more along those lines. I had never put on high heels or lingerie or any of that, but I have to say that I think it stood me in good stead. I feel a lot more confident about doing it.

I am a little concerned that, as someone is going to spend the entire production in lingerie, you don’t regard this as drag!
I think the thing is that they are two different things. In Priscilla the part is much more of a “showgirl” and was drag in a very traditional Australian sense. It was a different thing because it was more about wanting to look like a woman with very feminine gestures, those kinds of things, whereas I think Frank is much more sexually ambiguous and I think that is incredibly important.

I think if you approached it thinking this is a man who, for instance, wants to be Kylie Minogue as my character was in Priscilla, then that would be completely the wrong direction to go.


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