LondonMusicalReview

The Rocky Horror Show – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Reviewer: Dan English

Book and Lyrics: Richard O’Brien

Music: Richard Hartley

Director: Christopher Luscombe

It is hard to deny the unwavering appeal of Richard O’Brien’s raucous The Rocky Horror Show, which reopens Dartford’s Orchard Theatre to a standing ovation.

For those unfamiliar with O’Brien’s piece, the story follows the naïve Brad and Janet, who are swept up in the debauched madness which unfolds in Frank N Furter’s mysterious mansion. As a deranged evening of deception and devilish behaviour envelopes the newly married couple, O’Brien’s outrageous production, directed by long-standing director Christopher Luscombe, continues to deliver the charm and surrealism first unveiled almost 50 years ago.

Ore Oduba and Haley Flaherty, who portray newlyweds Brad and Janet respectively, quickly establish the innocence which defines the early moments of the couple’s marriage. Oduba and Flaherty work successfully to drive some of the piece’s first gags, while sending up opportunities for the typically riotous audience to add their own punchlines – a running theme throughout this production. It should also be noted, amid the chaos of the production, that both Oduba and Flaherty deliver some moving and powerful individual vocal performance, especially during the moments as the piece reaches its climax.

The success of this particular production always hinges on the quality of its Frank N Furter. In this case, Stephen Webb works wonderfully to create the powerfully domineering, yet at times tender, centrepiece to this production. Webb’s first involvement, strutting on midway through Act 1, captures the iconic character perfectly and continues in this manner throughout the performance. Webb’s ability to deliver both verbal and physical comedy is clear also, particularly during the opening of Act 2 during his intimate interactions with Brad and Janet’s characters.

One individual who threatens to steal the whole show, however, is Philip Franks, who is the show’s narrator. Franks’ natural wit and charm, oozes in his performance, tested frequently through the volatile and unpredictable nature of the jibes from the audience. Franks’ comic delivery, including a swipe at the theatre’s much publicised error ordering hundreds of frankfurter sausages instead of wigs, is an underrated highlight of this piece. Franks’ role also ensures the performance keeps its steady pace across its two-hour runtime, keeping the balance and rhythm needed to keep the humour hitting home.

Under Luscombe’s direction, the production is empowered by its impressively hard-working ensemble cast who are tireless in their delivery of Nathan M Wright’s choreography and quickly immerse us into the seductive world Frank N Furter has created. Riff Raff and Magenta, portrayed by Kristian Lavercombe and Suzie McAdam respectively, balance eeriness with absurdism in their role as the unique servants to Frank N Furter, and do not waste their opportunities to shine in Act 2. Much like Franks, Lauren Ingram’s portrayal of the simple-minded Columbia is a show-stealer, with her fragile yet frantic moment during the play’s second half getting one of the show’s biggest reactions, and the only criticism is that these characters deserve more time to shine.

This is a production that is almost half a century old, but, much like Frank N Furter’s creation Rocky, at times it feels fresher than ever despite a few blips and chaotic moments where perhaps a little more plot would do the trick. The songs are just as catchy, the routines just as punchy and the jokes are just as funny as they ever have been. There are very few productions that can get an entire auditorium on its feet, yet this one does it with ease.

 Runs until 3 September 2021 then continues to tour

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