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At 1.93m in his socks, Brendan van Rhyn is not a guy anyone is going to stick in the chorus line, but he is a shoe-in for Dr Frank-N-Furter, the sweet transvestite from The Rocky Horror Show, writes Theresa Smith.
WHILE Brendan van Rhyn has made a living out of playing all sorts of female characters – and his alter ego is that of female impersonator Cathy Specific – he’s also played everything from Prince Charming in Cinderella to Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet.
He can play manly man or girly girl and doesn’t feel the need to try and prove himself either way. Van Rhyn didn’t discover The Rocky Horror Show until long after he decided for himself that he wanted to make a living out of dressing as a woman. He first auditioned for the role in the late 1990s, but didn’t get it, trying again 10 years later with more success.
The first time he played Dr Frank-N-Furter was at the Victory Theatre in Joburg in 2008. His hair was longer then, so he had to use a can of spray every night to fix the hairstyle in place.
This time around, his hair is shorter, so he’ll be wearing a wig. That, several corsets and killer stilettos in a size 13.
“He’s just exploring the female side of himself, which he knows he can,” the 35-year-old says about his character, Dr Frank-N-Furter.
“I maintain there’s a little bit of Frank-N-Furter in everybody, we just all have it to varying degrees.
“Frank-N-Furter is a character who must be lusted over by males and females. Although there are camp elements, he’s still masculine, very manly. I think the way he’s dressed – the fishnets, the heels, the make-up – those elements create the campness of the character.
“But, in general, if you had to describe him, you would never say he was camp, period. He’s a real man, never at any stage does he want to be a woman.”
Unlike musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera or Jersey Boys, the choreography of The Rocky Horror Show doesn’t have to be exactly as it was first performed, and there’s scope to play with the costumes and sets.
Still, this production has stayed true to the original spirit of The Rocky Horror Show which was first performed 40 years ago in London, though Van Rhyn recognises that the cult show has become co-opted into the mainstream over the years.
“Unfortunately for the person who doesn’t know it, they won’t see it in its true form because as time goes on, it has to evolve. So, for instance, if you think about what shocked in the 1970s, when it came out, fishnets, that was it. Today, fishnets are whatever.
“So, you need to insert other elements which have to push those sexual boundaries.
“We’re staying true to the iconic followers who want to see Rocky in gold pants. We’re not going to put Frank-N-Furter in a dress.
“The style will change, but there are certain elements we have to stay true to, because people come and they want to see that. They want to come and when you mention Janet they want to shout ‘slut!’.”
As has become tradition, they will encourage audience participation, not just when inviting the audience to perform the Time Warp, but also to think just a little differently about sexuality.
“Let’s just say it’s not your regular song and dance. I’d like to think we are moving with the times. The fact that it’s been done in this country so many times is a clear indication that we’re not as prudish as you think.
“There are certain people who don’t move with the times and unfortunately they can’t be helped. There are people who, just out of principle, will never come and see The Rocky Horror Show, although they might be avid theatre goers. It’s not their thing, they don’t want to see men groping each other or girls kissing each other. And that’s fine.”
Other than the overt exploration of sexuality, Van Rhyn thinks an appealing aspect of The Rocky Horror Show is it harks back to a time long gone.
“There’s a bit of nostalgia, it’s not current. It’s nice to be taken back to a world you don’t know much about. You’re a visitor. You can suspend yourself in disbelief.
“What it’s really about is taking you, as an individual, as an audience member, to a place you have never been before and might never go back to again. But, for those two-and-a-half hours, you are there.
“And we’d love you to return.”
• After a run at Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre, The Rocky Horror Show is at Montecasino’s Pieter Toerien Theatre from January 24. See Computicket.