Book, Music and Lyrics: Richard O’Brien
Director: Christopher Luscombe
The Rocky Horror Show has been entertaining and beguiling audiences since 1973 and the legendary rock and roll musical is now celebrating its 50th anniversary by hitting the road with a world tour; this week the gang arrived in style at the Storyhouse in Chester.
The story, for those not in the know, features 1950’s stereotypical American couple Brad and Janet on their way to visit their science teacher, who after a storm, happen to fall upon the peculiar castle of Dr Frank N Furter and his team of strange and eccentric assistants. They just wanted to use the phone but what they get is something entirely new and different. The plot, such as it is, is a little superfluous as most of tonight’s sell-out crowd are here to have fun, dress up and dance in the aisles to now seminal rock and roll musical classics such The Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite. There are two distinct factions it seems within the audience, those who have been before and know the score and those looking around bewildered at the costumes and audience participation: both of these factions clearly left delighted, and the latter will no doubt be back with gusto in full costumes themselves.
The cast is all, to a mark, incredible, from the opening restraints of Science Fiction/Double Feature to the reprise at the end this does not feel like a Monday night performance, the energy and commitment are outstanding. The cast has been working together now for a few years with a few changes and you can tell that they know both the show and each other incredibly well, the scenes all flow and every drop of humour and pathos is squeezed out with ease by these rock and roll musical aficionados.
Richard Meek as Brad from Ore Oduba is brilliant throughout, bringing the nerdy elements of Brad into a full character arc and being entirely convincing throughout. Likewise, Haley Flaherty plays the innocent sweetness of Janet and her subsequent development with aplomb. The biggest cheer of the evening comes with the arrival of Dr Frank N Furter: aside from the fact half the audience is dressed as him, this character has taken on new heights of cult status and the audience cannot get enough. Stephen Webb flourishes in the role bringing a sexy swagger and confidence even the great Tim Curry would be proud of. Webb also has the vocals to do the role justice, and the acting in the final scenes is surprisingly moving for a show which celebrates all that is fun and farcical. The standout performances are the trio of assistants: Darcy Finden as Columbia, Suzi McAdam as Usherette/Magenta and, with over 2000 performances (more than any other actor in the show’s history), Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff. The vocals are all outstanding and the energy and enthusiasm on stage are unsurpassed with belly laughs throughout. Philip Franks, a favourite of this reviewer from his Darling Buds of May days, is a solid and hilarious Narrator rolling with the punches from the audience more than any other character and clearly having fun having to think on his feet, his experience and gravitas taking the show up another level. The cast is completed by Joe Allen (Eddie/Dr Scott) who has the audience on their feet with Hot Patootie and in stitches, as secret Nazi Dr Scott. Ben Westhead as the titular character Rocky plays with energy and innocence which is very endearing.
Director Chris Luscombe has clearly been blessed with this cast and has also worked hard to ensure all the scenes run as smoothly as possible. He makes the show as grand as it can be given the show is touring and each theatre has its own limitations. We enjoy cars, castles, rockets launching, anti-gravity cannons and much more besides. The music is also great under the supervision of musical director Charlie Ingles: faultless. Choreography is quite simple but effective by Nathan M Wright and sticking with tried and tested songs such as Time Warp ensures the audience can, and do, join in when the moment takes them.
It’s interesting that this show, which at the time of its opening was considered quite maverick has more than stood the test of time, and with themes of acceptance, tolerance, and sexual liberation in the forefront of society’s mind, it seems as relevant today as ever. Surely taking the time to address and enjoy those themes whilst dancing in the aisles with a six-foot stranger in a maid’s frock is a sign that this show continues to have a positive and important impact on society today.
If you haven’t seen it yet join the sea of yellow glittery top hats and black wigs and grab yourself a ticket for a night you won’t forget.
Runs until Saturday 4 March 2023 and on tour