Review: The Rocky Horror Show. Nottingham Royal Concert Hall

The pavement outside of the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall is overflowing with sequinned hats, French maids outfits and lacy corsets. This can only mean one thing: The Rocky Horror Show has returned to Nottingham and the Rocky enthusiasts are out in force to celebrate opening night.

Keen to get into the spirit of the evening, this reviewer is adorned with gold sequins and is ready to be inducted into the fan base of this cult classic by taking a jump to the left…and then a step to the right…maybe with the odd pelvic thrust thrown in for good measure.

As the audience waits in antici…..pation for the spectacle to begin, there is a buzz in the air. Perhaps this is partly to do with Covid restrictions being lifted and a brimming auditorium, but mostly the audience knows that something electric is about to begin. A delay to the start of the performance does nothing to dampen the spirits of this energetic audience and as soon as the live band plays their first note, the audience is clapping, waving, dancing and whooping, absolutely in the moment and loving every second. The audience are almost cast as part of the ensemble as they ooh-ooh and harmonise alongside the well-known opening number, “Science Fiction, Double Feature”. It’s a strong start with powerful vocals and precise movement by Suzie Mcadam as the movie theatre usherette (and then later Magenta).

Each performer has been perfectly cast. Haley Flaherty skilfully portrays Janet, the virginal girl next door who goes through a sexual awakening as a result of Frank-N-Furter’s tutelage. Playing Janet’s new fiancé, Ore Oduba embodies Brad’s naïve and geeky nature; known for his time on Strictly Come Dancing, it is expected that Oduba will shine with the choreography, but, for this reviewer, it is his silky vocals that sparkle, especially in “Once in a While”. Stephen Webb (Frank-N-Furter) clearly loves this role as his energy is infectious throughout the performance. He absolutely commands the stage whether he is gyrating to “Sweet Transvestite”, chasing Eddie with a chainsaw or sexually stimulating the two unwitting innocents (Brad and Janet) who wander into his lair.

Lauren Ingram’s vocals, tap dancing skills and vulnerability while playing Columbia, one of Frank-N-Furter’s former pets, bring sheer joy to the packed auditorium as does the Kristian Lavercombe’s Riff Raff, who is a firm fan favourite. Lavercombe plays his role with ardour which is somewhat astonishing given that he has played this very part more than 1350 times. Now that’s devotion!

In the bigger numbers, when the phantoms are present, the eye is naturally drawn to their movements and they do a fantastic job of portraying the overly-sexed, animalistic disciples of Frank-N-Furter. The choreography by Nathan M Wright relies on split second timing, synchronisation and exaggerated facial expressions – the phantoms deliver.

Special mention has to go to Phillip Franks who, as the Narrator, does not get as much stage time as others in the cast, but his role in connecting the cast to the audience is one of the elements that sets this production apart from other theatrical experiences. While he is scripted, much of this time of stage is reacting to the audience’s heckles. Rocky aficionados know that there are certain places where an audience response is expected and Franks does an amazing job of hilariously countering whatever the audience throws at him. To keep the production fresh, topical gags are written into Franks’ script. These slight changes also mean that the die-hard Rocky fan will see a slightly different show each season.

Knowing the reputation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, laughter is expected, dancing is a requirement – you WILL be on your feet dancing to “The Time Warp” – and singing along will happen whether you want it to or not. What this reviewer was not expecting, was the moments of sentiment which particularly occur towards the end of the production. The Rocky Horror Picture Show really does have it all. However, while there are extended periods of high energy, particularly in Act 1, the energy both on stage and in the auditorium reaches its crescendo for “Time Warp” which is the fifth song. It feels somewhat of a shame that this high octane number with it recognisable dance moves comes so early on as, even together, the audience and cast are unable to rebuild to a new high following the final chords of this fan favourite. I suppose Richard O’Brien had no idea back in the early 1970s that “Time Warp” would be the song that would become synonymous with his picture show.

On a personal note, this reviewer would like to thank the cast and crew of this production; having seen Rocky Horror some years previously and not really getting what all the fuss was about, I returned for this review with a little trepidation…but my younger self has been proved wrong and I am a Rocky Horror convert! Rocky Horror can be confusing as it’s unsure what it is supposed to be. Is it a musical comedy? Is it a glam rock show? Is it burlesque? Is it cabaret? But it is in this confusion that the beauty lies…it simply doesn’t matter. It is what it is and an audience member with an open mind, proclivity for jaunty tunes, appreciation of excellently choreographed physical movement, oh and a wicked sense of humour (that belongs somewhat in the gutter) will absolutely love this production. The raucous standing ovation at the end speaks for itself, and the audience reaction and enjoyment in this post-Covid world has helped to secure the 5 Star review for this performance.

To end with words of wisdom from Frank-N-Furter himself, “There’s no crime in giving yourself over to pleasure”. Rocky Horror is pleasure, so grab your fishnets and your sequins and “Time Warp” your way over to the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall before the end of the run on Sunday 15 August – it really will drive you in-sa-a-a-a-a-ane.

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