Ore Oduba: ‘I don’t think you can prepare for being in Rocky Horror’
Strictly Come Dancing winner Ore Oduba has stepped into the spike heels and stockings of The Rocky Horror Show’s resident nerd character Brad Majors and reveals that the experience has sometimes left him speechless.
Famed for its audience participation, the show - which will be 50 next year - is enjoying a new run with the BBC presenter alongside West End Star Stephen Webb as Dr Frank-n-Furter.
And having accepted the part without ever seeing the movie first, Ore admitted that he was in for a bit of a surprise, especially at the call-backs his character receives every night from the audiences.
He explained how he leapt at the chance of tackling the play after enduring a year without stage work during the pandemic.
“I thought I have been locked down for pretty much a year and that sounds like something I’d rather do,” he said.
“If it hadn't been for lockdown I probably wouldn’t have taken it. But I think it kind of gave me a different perspective and now I’m just trying to do things that are fun, and trying to do things for the right reason for yourself and what's going to make you happy. And so that was why I just chose to do.
“It has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Its just been such a great opportunity. It’s so rewarding doing a show every night when you have an audience, who are so invested and engaged and enthusiastic every single night that it genuinely takes the ceiling off. That is something very special. It’s been magic. We’ve loved every second of it.
“So, I took it on and then it was only after that I think I watched the film with my wife and her family. And I went ‘Oh, that’s what Brad does - OK, sure, I’ve said yes now so I might as well throw myself into it headlong. And that’s what I did.”
In the show, Ore plays Brad Majors, a squeaky clean college kid who, along with his fiancée Janet, end up stranded when their car breaks down outside a creepy mansion while on their way to visit their former college professor. Once inside, they meet the charismatic Dr Frank-n-Furter, who may not be entirely human.
Directed by Christopher Luscombe, Richard O’Brien’s legendary rock ‘n’ roll musical features timeless classics including Sweet Transvestite, Damn It Janet, and of course, the pelvic-thrusting Time Warp.
The first production of The Rocky Horror Show was written in 1973 as a humorous tribute to the science fiction and horror B movies of the 1930s through to the early 1960s, and tells the story of a newly-engaged couple getting caught in a storm and coming to the home of a mad transvestite scientist who is unveiling his new creation, a sort of Frankenstein-style monster who turns out to be a muscle man in gold spandex shorts.
“I don't really think anything could prepare you for what Rocky brings you every night,” said Ore.
However, the show’s producers did try to give the actors a taste of what their performances would be like on stage.
“We rehearsed two versions of the show,” Ore said. “We rehearsed doing the show in its entirety, just with us, the cast, musicians and the crew. And then we rehearsed it with shout-outs and the audience participation. That’s how we prepared for that interjection in your dialogue.
“But, to be fair, a number of times I’ve lost my place in the show because somebody shouted something out in the middle of a song. I remember actually our director was in the audience one night and there was one point in the middle of a song where somebody shouted out something completely mental. After that I had no idea what I was supposed to sing. So I just made it up literally going like doo doo, doo doo to the song until I remembered where I was because it was so random.
“I was a bit worried about what the director was going to make of it. But then I was told at half-time he was howling with laughter and so that bodes well and I think that is genuinely how the audience feel.
“I listen to Elaine Paige on Sunday and she likes talking about all her mishaps and how they are always popular with the audience. So when things go wrong, the audience goes, ‘Oh this is a special performance now’. It can happen quite regularly with cast members collapsing with laughter and you see 1,500 people just losing their nuts. So, nothing really can prepare you but we have had a good time.”
Ore is best known for winning Strictly Come Dancing in 2016, but started out as a news presenter on CBBC’s Newsround. He has also presented the sport for BBC Breakfast and BBC Radio 5 Live and stood in as guest presenter on The One Show.
After winning Strictly, he turned his hand to musical theatre with a starring role in a UK tour of Grease and appeared alongside Jason Manford in Curtains the Musical.
He admits the only downside to touring with The Rocky Horror Show has been leaving his young family behind for sometimes weeks at a time during the show.
Ore is married to TV researcher Portia and they have a four-year-old son, Roman, and a daughter, Genie, who was born at the end of last year.
He says: “It’s not the funnest thing to leave them on a Monday morning, every week, and in some cases that you might not see them for two or three weeks. But while I’m talking right now my daughter’s just to my right, she's just gone off for a nap. I took Roman to school this morning and gosh, I was craving this a few months ago. Now it seems normal. So yeah, it has been really hard. Both my wife and I are really proud that we’ve got close to the finish line.”
The show will have three more weeks to run when it reaches Cambridge and Ore admits he will be sad to say goodbye to the cast and crew and to hang up Brad’s stockings.
“When it is over we will be bereft and devastated that it isn’t part of our lives every day. These final shows will be sensational.”
But when Ore leaves, he knows the Rocky Horror Show will always continue and Brad will live on.
“He’s always reincarnated and somehow he will forget me before too long,” says Ore.
“There’s always someone else who wants to stick a bow-tie on and pop on some white socks. I will fade into the distance but once you’re part of the Rocky family you’re always around and so I’ll look back at the year incredibly fondly.”
Next year will be the show’s 50th anniversary and Ore has a theory about why it has lasted so long.
“The fact it will be 50 is mental. Shows like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables and a number of other shows out there that have been going for a really long time are kind of a staple of the musical theatre landscape and have stayed because the stories are so gripping and and immersive.
“When Rocky started in 1973, the show came from the creative and absurd mind of Richard O’Brien. It was about this house full of strange things and strange people. But actually, I think where it’s grown is because our society is so much more accepting.
“It's so much more celebratory of difference and how people are individual and unique and with this theatre production you will find yourself in a room where everybody is completely free to be themselves and let go of what they are supposed to be in society or work or family.
“They leave that at the door and they come as individuals - they come as themselves. Add to that this iconic soundtrack and amazing costumes and the encouragement to be engaged - that makes the atmosphere so special.
“It has taken on a different life and we’re actually seeing a lot of the audiences from when we’ve gone all over the country, getting younger, while the show itself is getting older. There obviously have been people who followed it for decades, but the audiences are getting younger because they can really be themselves along with 1,000 other people in one room. That is, I think, what’s been the mainstay of the show and hopefully will continue to do so for many years to come.”
- The Rocky Horror Show is at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, June 20-25. Tickets from £25. Visit cambridgeartstheatre.com.