The Rocky Horror Show does indeed come to mind in the songs, even though the overall style has quite a different feel, going for a jazzy influence that reflects the seedy 1960s LA club where much of the action takes place.
Detective Al Wheeler (Sebastien Torkia) fails to stop a young woman from jumping to
her death from a tall building, but drugs found in her system convince him it was
something more suspicious than suicide. The clues lead him to a sinister dating agency run by a married couple who look
suspiciously like brother and sister (Hannah Grover and Michael Steedon) as well as
the titular stripper, the dead girl's cousin Deadpan Dolores (Gloria Onitiri.)
The Studio is very much a cabaret space although the St James does seem determined
to keep putting theatre in it; at least the setting and musical style means The
Stripper fits into the space a lot more comfortably than some of the past
attempts to stage musicals there. It's still a bit of an awkward location though,
and even though the (slightly cheaper) balcony seats where we were sitting are
practically right on top of the actors, the atmosphere that seemed to have taken
hold near the stage didn't really travel up to us. (A reflection on the theatre
layout rather than Benji Sperring's production, I would say, as the - overall very
good - actors all made the effort to include us.)
What the production can't manage is to make sense of the musical's weird
tone; for the most part it's a po-faced parody of noirish potboilers, complete with
incomprehensible plot and dubious attitudes to women, but O'Brien's lyrics sometimes
take it in a direction of more bluntly stating the subtext - for the Act I finale
Wheeler sings "You Give Me a Hard-On" to one of his many conquests. The different
parodic styles don't really gel and, apart from an excellent climactic number with a
fantastic belting vocal from Onitiri, the second act's songs aren't as good as the
There's a lot of great work from the multitasking cast of five though, and a small
band that doesn't drown them out. A surreal highlight has to be Marc Pickering as a
corpse singing his own suicide note, with the rest of the cast manipulating him
Weekend At Bernie's-style. Grover's comic ability also stands out as, among
others, the creepy dating agency boss and a Latin American sexpot, but with that
late start time meaning it was getting on to half past ten before the plot finally
tied itself up, the heroic efforts of the cast weren't enough to keep me invested in
The Stripper and her deranged coterie.
The Stripper by Carter Brown, Richard Hartley and Richard O'Brien is booking until
the 13th of August at the St James Theatre's Studio.
Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Origin Photography.