Why I’m Excited About “SHOCK TREATMENT” Coming To The Stage (And Why You Should Be Too)

by Sean Pollock, Columnist Recently, King’s Head Theatre in London announced their kickstarter campaign for their world-premiere stage adaptation of “sequel” to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Shock Treatment which is coming to the UK this spring. Many musical fans are unfamiliar with the film, mostly because it’s a musical that time simply forgot. Shock Treatment was made in 1981, only six years after the Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Picture Show premiered in theatres, gaining an international fanbase during the first few years of its release. Shock Treatment, in a way, was a commercial failure on purpose. Its predecessor was a notorious box office bomb in theatres, but took off with a cult following after its release. The hope was the Shock Treatment would do the same--but it never quite caught on.

Unlike RHPS, Shock Treatment is much more sinister and dark than its antecedent. While both have biting commentary on the idea of monogamy and American values, the latter tends to take itself a bit more seriously. It is also important to note that Shock Treatment was billed as a “not a sequel”, “not a prequel” but as an “equal” to Rocky Horror--which was one of the many mistakes with the film. The film is in fact a cannon to the first film, and is simply a continuation of Brad and Janet’s storyline, bearing little resemblance the original at all. The only actors that appear in the film from RHPS are Richard O’Brien (Riff-Raff), Patricia Quinn (Magenta), Nell Campbell (Columbia), Charles Gray (The Criminologist), Imogen Claire (Betty Hapschatt) and Jeremy Newson (Ralph Hapschatt)--the last actor being the only character to reprise his role from the original.

Originally, Richard O’Brien had much more extravagant plans to include all of the characters from the original, including Frank ‘N Furter, to shoot in realistic locations in the real “Denton USA” in Denton, TX. However plans were halted due to a strike with the Screen Actors Guild in the US in 1980, forcing the production to be shot in the UK. Because O’Brien knew that the American suburbs couldn’t be realistically replicated in the UK, and, in combination with Tim Curry dropping out of the film--he essentially rewrote the film overnight to take place in a TV studio to avoid any field shooting. While the logical thing to do would’ve been to wait until the strike was over and make the film O’Brien really wanted to make, Shock Treatment became the result, much to the dismay of many fans of RHPS.

The film centers revolves around our favorite generic white American couple -post Rocky Horror on a game show called “Dentonvale” where Brad is held captive by two evil doctors to get shock treatment, and Janet sells out and becomes “Ms. Mental Health”. Sounds fun, right? Anyway, here are a few of the reasons why I’m excited for Shock Treatment:

1. It the highest profile commercial theatre venture being produced in 2015 that has been written by a -trans* individual. In case you missed the memo, Richard ‘O Brien, the creator/writer of Rocky Horror and Shock Treatment identifies as trans. While there are certainly many more plays and musicals on Broadway and the West End featuring LGBT characters, including Hedwig And The Angry Inch, none of these projects are being written by, directed by or even featuring actual transgender individuals. It is still incredibly frustrating to me that even in 2015, trans artists voices are still often silenced in the commercial theatre sector. It is important that if we are to support trans* individuals, we need to be supporting the work of trans individuals. Richard O. is an extraordinary individual whose legacy of RHPS and Shock Treatment have changed the lives of so many people all over the world, including myself, and their work deserves to be recognized.

2. King’s Head Theatre is taking a risk. Original musical films (meaning musical films that weren’t adapted from already existing stage musicals) rarely transfer onto stage successfully, especially films like Shock Treatment that flopped so hard upon initial release (except for maybe Newsies). It is very rare for a film this unknown to be brought out of obscurity thirty-five years after its release to a whole new generation of Rocky fans and theatregoers. But even so, because of the popularity of RHPS and Shock Treatment’s troubled legacy, living up to being a “sequel” to Rocky is a hard sell. But, I trust King’s Theatre will rise to the challenge.

3. Shock Treatment literally predicted reality TV. Perhaps the most admirable part of Shock Treatment, is that it is a film ahead of its time. While game shows and hidden camera shows were a large part of television starting as early as the 40’s, the concept of “reality television” which documented people so intensely in drastic circumstances didn’t really take off until COPS and The Real World in 1991. Now it seems we have nothing but reality programming on television--especially with outrageous shows such as Dating Naked or TLC’s newest reality TV show, My Husband's Not Gay!, which, now that I think about it is eerily similar premise to “Dentonvale”.

4. The score is actually a lot of fun. I often find myself singing the opening number “Denton USA”, “Breakin’ Out” and of course the title song, “Shock Treatment” too often, either in inappropriate public places, or in the shower. The score may have taken a little while to grow on me, much like RHPS, but it’s pretty spectacular--not to mention very satirical and poignant. It tackles a broad range of topics: such as the emptiness we feel because of consumerism (“Bitchin’ In The Kitchen”), idolization of television show personalities (“Farley’s Song”) and misogyny and standards of masculinity (“Thank God I’m A Man”) . While the orchestrations reek of the early 80’s (so much synth) there are plenty of toe-tapping numbers and quirky fun Richard ‘O Brien lyrics to be had. With some awesome new rock orchestrations, it could be the next Rock Of Ages, or whatever the kids are into these days.

In the mean time, this fan-produced script of a stage adaptation will have to do. Check out King Head’s Theatre’s Kickstarter above, and if you’re in the UK this spring, get your tickets ready for the world premiere of Shock Treatment!

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