Sci-fi thrives in the madcap, sublime

Sci-fi thrives in the madcap, sublime
08 Jul

“Science Fiction Double Feature” is the first song in” The Rocky Horror Show” and an apt description of the treat I recently enjoyed at the Stratford Festival.

These days, fewer and fewer people have ever gone to a double feature: two shows back to back, often full of monsters and mayhem. I suspect most folks only know the term thanks to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the movie version of the original stage musical.

But double-feature movies were hugely influential in the development of science fiction as we know it. Between the giant ants and the often cheesy special effects, they introduced a generation to ideas such as alien species, space exploration and challenging the status quo.

Rocky Horror tips its hat to the B-movies of the 1950s, rolling off a list of them in the opening song and shamelessly stealing concepts from many more.

Rocky Horror also adds humour, sex and music to make the science-fiction tropes that much more memorable.

When “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” came out in 1975, it became a phenomenon. Enthusiastic audiences wore costumes and developed elaborate ways of interacting with the movie: They threw toast at the screen when a character proposed a toast; they waved cigarette lighters during the song “There’s a Light,” and mercilessly heckled the characters with insults that grew more colourful through the decades.

In other words, Rocky Horror sent a message: You can be part of the science-fiction world, even if you haven’t memorized the periodic table.

Stratford Festival’s production of “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stratford’s Avon Theatre amplifies that message of inclusivity. It’s a nostalgic trip for anyone who’s already a fan, but also a joyfully energetic introduction for first-timers. Even better, choreographer-director Donna Feore has updated elements of the show to fit the world of 2018. Through innovations in staging and planted hecklers in the audience, this Rocky Horror has been adapted to modern sensibilities without losing the campy retro sizzle of the original.

For the second half of my double feature, I went from the madcap to the sublime: “The Tempest” at the Festival Theatre.

Does “The Tempest” deserve to be called science fiction? Many SF writers think so. It’s been used as the basis for numerous books, including Poul Anderson’s “A Midsummer’s Tempest” and the movie “Forbidden Planet” (which, by the way, is referenced several times in Rocky Horror). Even better, the setup for “The Tempest” is a science-fiction classic: a diverse group of people get shipwrecked in an eerie place and find themselves forced to confront their inner demons.



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