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Rocky at Forty: Philip Franks plays the Narrator

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The Rocky Horror Show launches its year-long 40th anniversary national tour at Brighton's Theatre Royal this Christmas. In the first in a series of interviews celebrating this, we meet the actor and directorPhilip Franks. One of the many perhaps unlikely cast members, he has decided to place himself firmly in the firing line by taking on the role of the Narrator.

How do you go from directing at the Chichester Festival Theatre and being a leading light in TRB Productions to walking the stage in fishnets and stilettos?
I see it, essentially, as a very, very serious career move (he says laughing).

I am sure you don’t really, but I would like to know – why this show and this part?
There are various quotations, I think one is from Friedrich Nietzsche and one from Erica Jong. Nietzsche’s is “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” and Jong’s is “If I'm afraid of it, then I must do it.” – so I’m just hoping to survive!

I’ve never done a musical and it’s not a world I know anything about, but I have worked with our director Chris Luscombe before, very happily, on The History Boys a couple of years ago and, as you know, we work together on TRB Productions. When it came along, initially I thought: absolutely not, I’m far too terrified to do that, but then I stopped and thought: actually, that’s a very good reason for doing something new rather than retreading a path that you’ve been down before.

What I would ordinarily be doing, at this time of year, is preparing for a show at Chichester but, of course, the Festival Theatre is closed for its refurbishment so when this came along I just thought this is something totally different for me, let's do it. I checked with my friend Simon Shepherd, who’s been the Narrator before, and his tales of it were firstly, so terrifying and secondly, so very funny that I just knew I had to try it.

Are you prepared for the fact that, from start to finish, you’re going to get abuse hurled at you?
Yes, I’m looking on it as therapy really – it’s Gestalt therapy. Apparently, so I’m told, when the Narrator steps forward and says, “Over, what was over?” you can expect, quite confidently, that the audience all shout back “Your career”. So, I’ve got to take that on the chin and see if I can work through it.

Are you working on some comebacks for the audience?
To some extent, yes. I think there are some things that you know the audience will probably shout so you do have a little bit of preparation but I think that the thing to do is to rehearse the piece as if it were a play and to try and be confident to go with whatever the audience are doing.

Certainly not to get cross with them, but to embrace the interactive part that makes the show quite unique. Chris is very keen that it’s not just a free-for-all panto style show that’s slung together in five minutes but that it’s properly, tightly, rehearsed as a well-oiled machine and the rest of it is the scary part.

There is also the chance that, and I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but some of the audience may know the show better than you do.
Oh yes, I’m certain of that, if you go by the “taxi driver barometer”. I had a taxi driver the other day who “lit up” when I said what I was doing because he and his wife have been to see the show almost every year for the last 30 years and he wasn’t in any way a creepy stalker or transvestite, but on go their corsets, fishnets and stilettos and they head off down the high street to see it.

I don’t think you get to sing much in the show do you?
No, hardly any really. It’s mostly speaking in just a couple of numbers so my job is mostly to be strict, but fair, in a rather nice crushed velvet jacket because, at least for most of the time, I get to wear proper clothes!

The Rocky Horror Show can be seen at the Theatre Royal, Brighton from 20 December 2012 to 5 Jan 2013, the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend between 22 and 27 April, the Corn Exchange, Cambridge from 29 April to 4 May, the Richmond Theatre between 6 and 11 May, the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from 13 to 18 May, the Churchill Theatre, Bromley between 27 May and 1 June, the Theatre Royal, Norwich from 3 to 8 June and the New Victoria Theatre, Woking between 24 and 29 June.


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