Review by Daz Gale
Few shows get to the cult status The Rocky Horror Show has enjoyed for nearly 50 years now. With easily recognisable characters, looks that are a go to every Halloween (and every other day of the year for the matter) and songs most people know even if they think they don’t, this show really is as iconic as it gets. Sometimes that can build up a level of hype it is impossible to live up to though, so the question is did it live up to my expectation or was it all a bit of a Horror show?
First seen in 1973, The Rocky Horror Show has gone on to perform around the world consistently with countless UK Tours, multiple productions in the West End and on Broadway and, of course, the legendary film adaptation The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now as part of its latest UK tour, it is back in London for a week at New Wimbledon Theatre where I went to catch it, ahead of its return to the West End in May 2023.
Written by Richard O’Brien, The Rocky Horror Show tells the story of Brad and Janet, a squeaky-clean young, engaged couple who meet Dr Frank’n’Furter when their car breaks down. What follows is a night they’ll never forget, full of corruption, charm and a lot of campness. Poking fun at science-fiction stories, Rocky Horror has its tongue firmly in its cheek throughout. What is impressive about this show is how timeless it seems to be. Already progressive for the time it debuted, the way it manages to feel fresh and not at all dated is a testament to its writing.
The songs are what makes The Rocky Horror Show a real party of a show. One of those rare shows where the vast majority of songs are already embedded in pop culture, meaning you are mere minutes from the next instantly recognisable song. From the iconic opening ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature’, the always brilliant ‘Sweet Transvestite’, ‘Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me’ and of course the ultimate party anthem that is ‘The Time Warp’, this is a show where the music is consistently incredible and always ensures a smile is permanently fixed on to your face.
The Rocky Horror Show is fairly unique in the audience it attracts. As well as a devoted audience who dress as their favourite characters, audience participation is encouraged with responses called out throughout the show, predominantly at the Narrators expense. For some, that may sound like your idea of Hell. I for one always sink in to my seat at the slightest bit of audience participation. However, it is hard not to buy into the atmosphere of it when the audience fill the momentary silences on stage with perfectly timed, scripted responses, it becomes clear they are part of the show and it makes the whole thing that much more fun. Just try not to shout insults at cast members of other shows as that might not go down so well.
It is down to a Narrator to tell the story to the willing audience.. While this role has more commonly been played by a man, Jackie Clune expertly plays the role here in a truly brilliant and innovative performance, which sees her respond to the audience heckles with quick-witted and flawless responses that clearly deviate from the original script, especially when one tells her to “Describe your balls”. Other brilliant lines from Jackie including “How brilliantly heteronormative” and my own personal favourite line of the night “I’m the fourth most popular Liz Truss tribute act” which isn’t something you would necessarily expect to hear at Rocky Horror but something I loved all the same. She made the most of a relatively small role and truly made it her own in what was one of the performances of the night for me.
An expert cast assemble to step in to the heels of these legendary characters. Richard Meek and Haley Flaherty perfectly embody the initial innocent but easily corrupted Brad and Janet with an effortlessly natural sweetness. Both get opportunities to showcase their impressive voices and have fantastic chemistry on their scenes together. Stephen Webb gives a commanding turn as Dr Frank’n’Furter in a turn that you can’t help but compare to Tim Currys portrayal in the movie, but one that equally stands up on its own.
Kristian Lavercombe is an undoubted standout as Riff Raff, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given he has now played the role for more than 2000 performances around the world. With fantastic characterisation and mannerisms, he is a joy to watch, alongside Suzie McAdams who is spellbinding as Magenta. Ben Westhead perfectly encapsulates Rocky while Darcy Finden is brilliantly barmy as Columbia. The main cast is completed by Joe Allen who gets two small but memorable roles as Eddie and Dr Scott.
The direction from Christopher Luscombe utilises Richard O Brien’s flawless writing and makes the most of the varying production details. While the set design may not be the most intricate in the world, it more than does the job required of it with elements such as lighting design from Nick Richings elevating the whole affair. The choreography in The Rocky Horror Show is often as iconic as it gets (Time Warp anyone?) and Nathan M Wright brings these performances to life on stage with gorgeous movement.
There’s a reason why The Rocky Horror Show has entertained audiences around the world for close to 50 years now and it’s very easy to see why. The ultimate feel-good show (even when characters are being murdered), this is one party that leaps off the stage and transcends into the audience. Iconic songs and legendary characters are brought to life by a truly wonderful cast who manages to simultaneously evoke the feeling of nostalgia for those who have seen the show (or the movie) before, while also bringing something new to the show – none more so than in the case of the genius Narrator. The Rocky Horror Show is every bit as exciting now as it was when it first reared its perfectly sculpted head. Here’s to the next 50 years of this absolutely timeless show.
The Rocky Horror Show plays at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 26th November.
It continues its UK tour until September 2023 including 5 weeks in the West End from May – June 2023.
Full dates and tickets from https://www.rockyhorror.co.uk/tour-dates
Photos by David Freeman (Photos feature some former cast members)