Book, Music and Lyrics: Richard O’Brien
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Reviewer: Gemma Fincher
Still packing out theatres in its 46th year, the iconic cult classic musical, The Rocky Horror Show is back in Birmingham with an all-star cast. Initially written as a stage play in 1973 by Richard O’Brien, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was produced largely as a parody of the science fiction/B horror movies of the era. The film became known as a ‘midnight movie’ where audiences would engage with the film, shouting back at the screen and attending showings dressed as the characters – a trend now synonymous with the stage productions of the show.
Rocky Horror is one of the few stage shows where audience participation, heckling and props are not only commonplace but actively encouraged and expected. Whilst the standard and performance of the cast are important, Rocky Horror’s success is as much about the audience as it is about what is unfolding on stage.
The plot centres around the newly engaged, all-American couple Brad and Janet who decide to embark on a road trip to visit their former college professor. Sometime during their journey, they suffer a flat tyre, forcing them to seek assistance at a nearby castle where they encounter the ‘sweet transvestite’ scientist Doctor Frank N Furter. Arriving during a significant moment for Frank, Brad and Janet are set for a night they will never forget, played out against a backdrop of a toe-tapping soundtrack, an innuendo-laden script and outrageously risqué costumes.
2016 Strictly Come Dancing champion, turned theatre powerhouse Joanne Clifton (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Footloose) takes up the role as the sugar-sweet Janet Weiss. We all know she can dance, but goodness she is a true triple threat. With vocals to die for Clifton brings a new dimension to Janet, well and truly making the role her own. There aren’t many opportunities for her to stretch her vocal cords, but when she does, she does so with abundance. Her rendition of Janet’s famous solo number Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me is assured and further enhanced by some fabulous comic timing where she plays off Callum Evans’s buff and athletic Rocky.
90’s heartthrob Ben Adams genuinely looks as if he was born to play the role of the geeky Brad Majors. Adams embodies the character of Brad beautifully and delivers a stunning solo performance of Once in a While. His chemistry with Clifton is believable and they complement each other in droves.
The role of The Narrator on the tour is being shared by several actors. The larger than life Birmingham native Alison Hammond takes up the role here and is nothing short of a revelation. Entering the stage to rapturous applause she delivers a performance that is as joyous as it is hilarious. Hammond plays off the energetic audience with razor sharp wit and her trademark infectious humour.
Kristian Lavercombe has reprised his role as Riff Raff for the tour having chalked up over 1400 performances in the musical joining it on tour in Asia, Australia and New Zealand. It is easy to see why he has been so successful in his portrayal – his performance is as amusing as it is creepy and he provides arguably the most comedic interludes in the show with his nuanced looks and movement. The iconic Timewarp is where he truly comes into his own, complemented beautifully by Laura Harrison as Magenta.
Blue’s Duncan James steps into Frank N Furter’s Basque and platform heels. James has an incredible stage presence and an astonishing vocal range which combined with his enviable physique whips the audience into a complete frenzy. His entrance receives one of the loudest receptions of the night and he belts out Frank’s signature tune Sweet Transvestite with authority and class.He brings unusual masculinity to the flamboyant, camp and at times effeminate Frank, but without diluting any of those iconic characteristics.
With audience participation such a key ingredient, it was thrilling to see the theatre full. As a result, the performances were exuberant, the energy levels off the charts and the heckling first class. After 46 years, Rocky Horror has never been more popular, and if tonight is anything to go by, that popularity won’t be waning any time soon. Rocky Horror is a riotous, vibrant and effervescent night out that is not to be missed.
Runs Until 25 May 2019 and on tour | Image: Contributed