Dust off those fishnets and snap your corsets, it’s the return of those funsters from the planet Transexual in the Galaxy of Transylvania, hitting the stage again with a new production of The Rocky Horror Show, which has already been touring extensively throughout the UK and, after a pause at the end of this week, will start again later in the year. For one week only, the Royal and Derngate will be playing host to Brad and Janet’s salutary tale of what not to do when your get a flat tyre (sorry, tire) in the rain within sight of a creepy old castle. Next time, ring the AA. So much easier.
Richard O’Brien’s evergreen musical still has the power to delight, thrill and shock audiences. Shock? Surely everyone knows what to expect when they see this show? Apparently not, as I discovered when we took my in-laws Lord and Lady Prosecco last night only to realise they had never seen or heard anything about it. And Lady Prosecco was shocked, I tell you shocked. I remember being told that every day, someone somewhere hears Handel’s Water Music for the first time. Just because something has been around for ages, doesn’t mean to say that everyone knows it.
The last time I saw Rocky Horror was in 1999, with Jason Donovan as Frank N Furter and the late great Nicholas Parsons as the Narrator. I think things were a little more staid then than they are now, as I have no recollection of the cross-banter between audience and cast that studded last night’s show. And from what I can gather, we were a relatively reserved bunch. Heaven only knows what happens on a Saturday night.
This is a very simple show to critique because it’s simply excellent all the way through, with no exceptions. Staging – tick. Lighting – tick. Costumes – tick (fab). Band – tick (outstanding). Performances – tick (brilliant throughout). As for the show itself, I haven’t changed my opinion that I formed when I first saw it at the King’s Road theatre in Chelsea back in the 70s. Yes, I am that old. It’s an outstanding show – until about three-quarters of the way through when it simply loses its way. You completely believe the outrageous story and group of characters – it’s lifted from those old movies or comic books – you only have to suspend disbelief a tiny bit; until the science fiction part truly kicks in, and then we don’t believe in it anymore. It also suffers – and that is the right word I think – from having nearly all the best songs in the first half; Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me being the obvious exception. It does feel odd to have everyone on their feet doing the Time Warp barely twenty minutes into the show; then you all have to sit down again for the show to resume and there’s an obvious drop in energy. Of course, The Time Warp comes back at the end, but that’s encore, innit.
Nevertheless, it’s still a wonderful show and I can’t imagine a better production. Proving that his Strictly experience was no fluke, Ore Oduba is fantastic as Brad, with all that stuffy innocence that the role requires, and Haley Flaherty a perfect Janet, sweetly giving into sexual pleasure in her very sensible bra. Stephen Webb uses his sensational voice to great effect as Frank N Furter, and Philip Franks is superbly mischievous as the Narrator, bringing in cutting references to modern life, battering down any misplaced interventions from the audience, and having better Prince Andrew and Boris Johnson material than most stand-up comedians. Rocky regular Kristian Lavercombe gives us a Riff Raff full of physical comedy, and Lauren Ingram’s voice is perfect for Columbia’s vocal show-offs. But everyone in the cast fits their roles absolutely perfectly and turn in first-class performances all round.
A fabulous fun night at the theatre. Let your hair down, don’t chuck anything on stage, and do wear your best inappropriate lingerie.
Production photos by David Freeman