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No one would have thought the run of the Rocky Horror Show at Cape Town’s Fugard would be extended three times. But it was and now, as the show hits the Joburg circuit, things are still going great for cast and crew alike.
And for the dry cleaners. Because the show has run up a laundry bill of note – since creating extra sets of costumes for every character was not the original plan.
Already thinking ahead to the Joburg run, The Rocky Horror Show costume designer, Penny Simpson, redesigned costumes with slightly more laundry-friendly materials and rethought the shoe situation.
The chorus – or the Phantoms, as they are called in this show – are constantly showing off their dance skills so their bespoke shoes also posed a maintenance challenge and eventually will need replacing.
These are all issues the audience are completely unaware of, since all we see are eye-catching costumes, red boas and Frank-N-Furter confidently striding across the stage in killer heels.
Simpson – who ran the Artscape wardrobe department for many years – remembers watching the original Rocky Horror Show in an exceedingly seedy theatre in London in the ’70s.
“We all walked into this dark, dingy, smelly theatre that had this passage up the centre and this creature, this grotty, tacky Frank-N-Furter, strode up and down in his fishnets,” she remembered.
In addition to the overriding smell of smoke (this was back when people were allowed to smoke indoors), she remembers thinking the Phantoms looked like they had dressed them- selves. “So, I wanted to give these Phantoms some style,” she said.
The original fishnet stockings and underwear for Frank-N-Furter (it’s hard to find the correct underwear in Cape Town, apparently) are still there, but all with a contem- porary twist, like corsets designed by a local company.
Still, “everyone knows the original costumes, it’s very hard to move away from that”.
Director Matthew Wild’s brief was “keep it as is”, so Simpson’s designs were traditional, down to first creating a prosthetic hump for Riff-Raff and designing a tight costume around it.
She started off with grandiose ideas, but kept paring them down, like tossing extraneous costuming ideas for Rocky to leave him in little golden pants, or keeping the chorus in black and white for contrast.
“More often than not, I’m the one who says ‘no’,” she said.
While working on The Rocky Horror Show, Simpson was already sketching out ideas for Blood Brothers and Guys and Dolls for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, and Sunset Boulevard.
Now she wants to take a break until she has to work on Oklahoma! but don’t be too surprised if you see her name pop up as costume designer on another show because for someone who is supposed to be retired, she is very much in demand.