RICHARD O’BRIEN’S ROCKY HORROR SHOW

★★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
  at _THE ALEXANDRA.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _1st APR.

March 27, 2023

images © David Freeman.

Let’s do the timewarp, again.

…again.

When it comes to musical favourites on repeat, Rocky Horror Show is the flag-waving, heel-kicking standard bearer for keep on keepin’ on. It should, by now, be spouted in theatre circles that the only things to survive a nuclear holocaust would likely be cockroaches, Liz Truss’ inexplicable career, and a touring production of Richard O’Brien’s madcap classic.

And yet, as the world turns, doing its own ‘jump to the left and step to the right’ in the process, the times that this venerable production (nigh identical in staging to when this particular author first reviewed, over a decade ago) finds itself landing in are a-changing, too.

Perhaps more than ever in recent memory, in the wake and gloom of a pandemic, the drab ebb of financial crises, and the regressive, authoritarian stamp being slapped across the world onto expression, individuality and flamboyance, the world needs Rocky Horror.

It’s fortunate then, that the class of 2022/23 – a mix of veterans and newcomers alike to camp Rocky – rise to the occasion for this current World tour.

As the now-iconic splash of the show’s Columbia character and logo, on digital billboard outside Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre, proudly boasts, this latest run marks the fiftieth anniversary of the camp, formerly cult, favourite. In appearance, bells and whistles, it’s practically the exact same glitzy, colourful trip wheeled out for the fortieth, too, but that’s no bad thing. Hugh Durrant’s B-movie-meets-Christie set stylings, Nick Richings’ technicolor barrage of lighting and Sue Blane’s seminal costumes – we’ve been here before, but it’s devilishly good to be back.

A most loyal slav…servant!: Outside of perhaps OG ‘Frank n Furter’, Tim Curry, and O’Brien himself, no other performer has served the ‘Rocky Horror’ brand with as much flare and enduring gusto as Kristian Lavercombe (pictured above). Lavercombe boasts over 2,000 performances as the iconic ‘Riff Raff’, and has become a firm fan favourite (with good cause). 

And it’s great to have some familiar faces along for the ride, too – Stephen Webb slips back into the suspenders with rich ease as the iconic ‘Frank n Furter’, with his full-bodied, handsomely-sung and admirably unique spin on the role once again a joy. Any Rocky Horror worth its smut needs a ‘Frank’ that commands the stage, and Webb does so with delicious relish – soaring vocals at the ready, figure-hugging corset strapped tight, ridiculously oversized whip in hand.

Elsewhere, veteran ‘Narrator’ Philip Franks – who played the role in that very same inaugural review of mine back in the halcyon days of 2012 – is clearly still having a ball and showing no signs of languishing. This time round, he had plenty of topical detours to toy around with (‘Suella the Musical’, anyone?), slotting in natural alongside the tried-and-tested, fan-favourite shoutouts and double entendres.

Perhaps most inseparable of all, Kristian ‘Riff Raff’ Lavercombe pulls off the genuinely quite breathtaking feat of still serving up a sizzling, giddily energised tour-de-force as Frank n Furter’s right-hand man, even after some two-thousand performances in the role. He is, in many ways, the show’s MVP – good luck finding a performer with such an indelible stamp on a character, whilst still knocking it out of the park, still finding new wrinkles and beats and still serving up a turn that crackles with the freshness of the first flushes of previews, never mind over a decade on.

A most loyal slav…servant!: Outside of perhaps OG ‘Frank n Furter’, Tim Curry, and O’Brien himself, no other performer has served the ‘Rocky Horror’ brand with as much flare and enduring gusto as Kristian Lavercombe (pictured above). Lavercombe boasts over 2,000 performances as the iconic ‘Riff Raff’, and has become a firm fan favourite (with good cause). 

Nipping at his heels though, are probably the most uniformly-excellent Rocky cast that this particular reviewer has had the pleasure of shouting ‘c*ck’ at …and there have been many. Richard Meek (another returnee) seems perfectly plucked from the era as a stroppy, boyish Brad with a tender, soulful voice, whilst stage veteran Haley Flaherty struts, slinks and shimmies back into the show with a masterclass Janet – comfortably the best reviewed to date (again, this is no small praise – she’s in some fine company).

“…the irresistible, hilarious, unabashedly camp and infectiously naughty Rocky Horror with its sonic oscillator dialled all the way up to ‘perfection’”

Darcy Finden’s Columbia? Exquisite. Ben Westhead’s Rocky? Fabulous (and certainly passes the Charles Atlas test). Joe Allen’s Eddie-Dr Scott duality? My favourite to date. Suzie McAdams, also on dual duty, as both Usherette and Magenta? Lavercombe-levels of definitive and excellent.

If you notice a pattern emerging, it’s no science fiction, nor have I been seduced by an errant transducer.

This is, quite simply, the irresistible, hilarious, unabashedly camp and infectiously naughty Rocky Horror with its sonic oscillator dialled all the way up to ‘perfection’.

Sure, if you trawl wide and far enough, you’ll likely find some commentators taking pot shots at its representation of transvestism. Others, still, will probably pluck at a thread and find themselves arriving somewhere in the ballpark of perceived transphobia, but again, it feels very much like ‘square peg, round hole’ kind of revisionism.

In truth, for what is now five proud decades, Rocky Horror has championed and celebrated diversity and expression. It has sung from the hymn book of sex positivity, of gender fluidity, and of not just dreaming it, but being it. All whilst going nowhere near a soapbox, and staying effortlessly entertaining throughout.

Heck, in terms of staying power alone, and indeed one that commands even more fervent fan engagement, dressing up and love than ever before, it demands respect.

But strip away all of the socio-cultural framing, and even just as an evening of sinfully good musical theatre, this is Rocky Horror at the top of its game. A raucous, laugh-out-loud night of non-stop earworms, toe-tapping gems and plenty of post-modern mischief, there may be many informed by its influence, there may be some who consider themselves challengers to the throne (hint: they’re not), and even a merry band of naysayers to its cause, but the truth is quite simple…

There is only one Rocky Horror Show. And it’s still here; loud, proud and still captivating the crowd, performed this time round by across-the-board perfection.

Roll on the centenary.

It was great when it all began… and still is. Board the pretenders on the first ship to Transylvania, this is the one, the only, the original, performed to suspender-wearing, lipstick-smearing perfection.

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