The Stripper play at St James Theatre review: Richard O'Brien's follow-up to The Rocky Horror Picture Show gets stuck in a sexist time warp

 
Dougie Gerrard
Richard O'Brien's 1980 musical does nothing to justify its revival
The Stripper
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This 1980 musical by Rocky Horror writer Richard O’Brien – itself an adaptation of Carter Brown’s pulpy 1959 short story – fails at any point to justify its revival. O’Brien’s hero is Al Wheeler (Sebastien Torkia), a California cop who fails to save the suicidal Patty Keller (Gloria Onitri) from a window ledge drop. “Did she jump, did she fall, or was she pushed?” the first song jazzily asks.

Determined to find out, the case leads Wheeler to Deadpan Dolores (also Onitri), the eponymous stripper and Patty’s cousin, whose boss’s ties to the criminal underworld appear to implicate her, too. Everyone is under suspicion, and nothing is as it seems.

Except, it turns out, for the play itself, which on reflection is exactly as awful as it first seems. The songs are mostly forgettable, the attempts at humour catastrophic, and it’s laden with unreconstructed 1950s sexism that a cleverer production might have been able to ironise. The women all either die or sleep with Wheeler, and about halfway through the play delivers on the promise of its title with seedy inevitability, Dolores removing her nipple tassels and stockings as her male co-stars gawp stupidly on.

The humour is communicated in songs and endless innuendo-filled asides from Wheeler to the audience. To give a flavour of it, one song contains the words “you make me ejaculate” followed by the addendum, “…sentences”. Another begins with the haunting lyric “I wanna fondle your tits”, and ends with Wheeler crooning “Baby, you give me a hard on”. I wasn’t around in the 80s, but it’s hard to imagine this was funny in any context. The past truly is a foreign country.

The whole mess is made to feel extra-amateurish by elements of the design – the brutal neon lighting, the stage being stuck together with visible masking tape, the fact that little thought has gone into the seating arrangements. It’s set out cabaret-style and this frequently meant I was oblivious to what was happening; I spent a good minute bewildered because from where I was sitting I couldn’t see the man holding the gun on the balcony.

By the end of the two and a half hours, you’re beyond caring who dunnit; the real culprit is Richard O’Brien.

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