MusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Rocky Horror Show – Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Reviewer: Ruth Jepson

Music, Lyrics and Book: Richard O’Brien

Director: Christopher Luscombe

How to describe The Rocky Horror Show to a virgin? Part drag show, part homage to 50’s B-movie Sci-Fi, the decadent daydream of a stage show has been delighting fans since 1973, when writer and original Riff-Raff Richard O’Brien unleashed his manic creation onto an unsuspecting world, initially with little fanfare or acclaim, but building quickly into the very definition of a cult classic. The plot is really neither here nor there, as the audience are here for crass jokes, rock inspired sing-a-longs and the excuse to wear a corset regardless of their gender presentation; but essentially, two newly engaged regular schmucks, Brad and Janet (Richard Meek and Haley Flaherty) break down on the way to visit their old Professor, Dr Everett Scott (Joe Allen). Trying to find a phone, they stumble into the mansion and science lab of Dr Frank N. Furter (Stephen Webb) who is throwing a party where he will unveil his latest creation Rocky, the perfect, Charles Atlas approved man (Ben Westhead). Chaos and sexual enlightenment ensue.

The Rocky Horror Show has been an institution now for fifty years. In that time, millions of fishnetted fans have come up to the lab, seen what’s on the slab, and slavishly returned for more, again and again. The legendary Frank N Further has been played by great actors such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Stewart Head, Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, even Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox, not to mention the inimitable Tim Curry, so Webb had mighty big (and mighty high) shoes to fill taking on the role for this tour. And fill them he does, with eyerolling, Jokeresque aplomb. From the second he enters the stage for Sweet Transvestite, you can’t look at anyone else, exactly how it should be. Equally, the audience are eating out of the palms of this run’s Narrator, comedian Jackie Clune, who handles both known and new audience participation expertly, throwing out situationally relevant jokes and cheeky innuendo like she was born for the role. Special mention must also be made of Westhead, in his first professional role, who is not only easy on the eye as Rocky but brings the necessary mix of naivety and jock expected of the role.

The audience are in full swing fulfilling their role too. The shout outs come thick and fast, and the singing is loud, raucous, and immensely fun to join (although please stick to the known call and responses, unless you are genuinely hilarious. Mere drunken boorishness will fall flat hard in this crowd). The Rocky Horror Show is the place to be for a vast swath of folk, old, young, male, female, non-binary, straight, gay, black, white… the variation in fans is endless, as is the commitment to costume. Especially popular with the LGBTQ+ crowd, the show does have a few bits that cannot be said to have aged well (don’t use the word ‘transvestite’ outside the theatre for example) but it has long been acknowledged that this one time it can be given a pass.

Following the very recent passing of The Rocky Horror Show Fan Club President Sal Piro, a man present at that very first show in 1973, who helped devise the iconic call outs and dedicated his life to this cult of creatures, those in the know can’t help but feel a slight sadness when enjoying tonight’s performance. So too does the equally recent one-year anniversary of the death of Meat Loaf – the original Eddie – add a layer of sadness. But the best way to honour their legacies is to grab your feather boa, practise your Time Warp, and book your tickets to this magically sumptuous Wild and Untamed Thing.

Runs until Saturday 28 January 2023, before continuing on tour.

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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