Music, Book and Lyrics: Richard O’Brien
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Time is fleeting.
Madness takes its toll.
But listen closely, more than 50 years after its first ground-breaking romp onto the West End stage, Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror show is making its way across the UK with a sensational new tour. Made famous by its iconic movie adaptation, starring Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon, The Rocky Horror show has become a cult classic. Exploring themes of gender identity, sex and fidelity, the show feels fresh and more relevant than ever. Indeed, it is difficult for a modern audience to fathom just how shocking this show would have been in its original 1970s manifestation to its original audience.
The plot follows newly-engaged couple, Brad and Janet, who by chance encounter car trouble and end up in the home of Dr Frank N Furter. In so doing, they embark on an adventure of self-discovery as they negotiate their way out of this house filled with misfits and weird experiments. The plot is a loose concept bringing together high-energy musical numbers with razor-sharp political satire, delivered by the tremendous Philip Franks, in his capacity as Narrator. While the story itself has more holes than Dr Frank N Furter’s fishnet stockings, it does not in any way detract from the enjoyment of the show.
With this show, typical theatre etiquette does not apply – audience participation is very much encouraged and expected, with Frank’s narrator often breaking the fourth wall to engage with a bawdy joke. The audience rambunctiously obliges with heckling, singing, and many gestures. There are also multiple numbers where the crowd simply must be on its feet, having been whipped into a frenzy of frivolity.
Hugh Durrant’s set design is a masterclass in theatrical staging. The starting portion of the show is cartoonish and pastel-coloured as if it has been popped up within a children’s storybook, only to get darker, more vibrant, shiny and three-dimensional as Brad and Janet enter the home of Dr Frank N Furter, cleverly mirroring the plot. A perfect example of Durrant’s stylistic yet functional set design coupled with Nick Richings’ convoluted lighting plan to create intense dramatic moments is the visually stunning neon Vitruvian Man reveal of Rocky. Richings has created an intricate scheme of lighting for the show’s arc which, coupled with the intense makeup, makes for a living canvas of art in action. Sue Blane’s costume design is perfect throughout, aptly glamourous but also a homage to the original source material that we all know and love. In particular, the ensemble with the sunglasses, coiffed hair, party hats and tuxedos are lifted straight from the movie, propelling the action with whimsical malice.
As Stephen Webb’s Dr Frank ‘N’ Furter makes his grand entrance, he is resplendent in his iconic corset, and stockings combination covered by a vampire-esque cape which is seductively discarded later in the scene. As stage entrances go, this one is as subtle as a sledgehammer and truly does make the audience shiver with antici……pation! In the role synonymous with this show, Webb is nothing short of spectacular, the nucleus of the onstage energy. Not only does he look flawlessly beautiful in his corset and suspenders, but he is also regal, dominant, powerful, and sexy in equal measures. It would be easy to take a role like this and go too far in terms of pantomime slapstick physicality or sadistic evil, but Webb sashays a fine line, leaving the audience enthralled and a little bit in love with his character. He references Tim Curry many times within his performance with subtle mannerisms and vocal inflections; however, these are always mere points of reference. Webb has taken full ownership of this character and is a tour de force in lingerie and red lippy.
Webb plays as the perfect juxtaposition to Ore Oduba’s awkward physicality as Brad. Oduba does a stellar job as the shy and nervous lead. He is a legitimate triple-threat performer with a beautiful velvety voice. Whilst this is his first leading role, there is little doubt that he has a long musical theatre career ahead of him.
Rocky Horror charges through its two-hour running time like a whirlwind. The cast is a single organism, running on pure adrenaline and it is infectious. Together, they create a masterpiece of musical theatre, filled with the iconic choreography that we have all practised at family weddings.
This is the show for theatre-goers and hardcore fans alike.
An excellent night out.
Runs Until 9 July 2022 and on tour