Review: Rocky Horror Show
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
I’m completely sober, so I know this is just Nottingham city centre on a Monday night… But I feel a bit like a ‘Janet’ in my own kitsch Horror/ Science Fiction B-Movie. I’m not nearly as pink and perky as she is, and my ‘Brad’ is far too busy bitching about his deteriorating vape to joyfully sing his feelings to me. But our fellow cast mates, i.e. the rest of the audience, are a sight to behold: six-inch heels, extravagant wigs, leather basques, latex gloves, gold bowler hats, and enough fish net to wrap around the city at least once – and you know that’s just the men. Watching the swathes of devilishly divine dedication jump to the left and step to the right towards the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall; it’s a fiendish beckoning to those who want to pay tribute to this glorious fifty-year anniversary of inspiration and liberation.
I’ll not go on about the origins of the production; you can read for yourselves in the special anniversary program (a collector’s item for sure, make sure you get one!) In the tiniest of nutshells, Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman’s modest, grungy beginnings from a small room at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square 1973, went on to produce the infamous cult classic 1975 film starring Tim Curry, or more importantly, fifty years of sold-out performances all over the world. There’s not even an inkling that the love for this show would ever start to decline – and for that reason alone, we should all do the time warp.
Young lovers, wholesome Brad and Janet (played with refined panache by Richard Meek and Haley Flaherty) are on their way to meet an old professor when their car breaks down in torrential rain. Instead of the AA and a good cup of tea, they find themselves plunged in a bucket of debauchery when they happen upon a deliciously diabolical mansion (bravo to set designer, Hugh Darrant) owned by the Transvestic mad scientist, Frank -N- Furter, and his collection of beautiful ghoulish slaves. Frank-N-Furter is an alien from the planet Transsexual (of Transylvania, of course) and he’s manufacturing the perfect man (Rocky) in his depraved laboratory to satisfy his cravings. Here, Brad and Janet find their own sexual revolution, and we are all along for the ride.
We’re immediately introduced to blissful musicality by Usherette, played in a dreamy haze by a wonderful Suzie McAdam (also a spellbinding Magenta). We’re transfixed by this vison of gorgeous, pastel tones with a voice to match, before she pulls the curtain back to let the thrills unfold. Exciting choreography by Nathan M Wright quickly follows, as Brad and Janet’s fumble to the mansion is stalked by Frank-N-Furter’s hellishly incredible dancing phantoms.
The choreography is really something quite special here, carried out by bodies that seem to get us moving in all the right places. No one on stage rests on their laurels; every finger has a pulse, and every line is sharp – it’s riveting to watch.
Kristian Lavercombe’s Riff Raff is met with rapturous applause, and I wouldn’t take away one pair of hands for him. His portrayal as the beloved – though sinister – hunchbacked, all-knowing servant is devout in his commitment to O’Brien’s wonderous creation.
As is Stephen Webb’s, Frank-N-Furter. The secret with this one (I think, anyway) is that Frank-N-Furter needs to be sexy, and Webb most definitely is. His masculinity as blatant and protruding as his lust for the objectified Rocky. He’s as sumptuous as he is monstrous; he could crack a whip as brutally as he kills with a chainsaw.
Rocky is played by an obviously anatomically gifted, Ben Westhead: just lovely as the innocent newly born man-child. I suppose you could start to feel sorry for the chap if you started to draw comparisons with various news-worthy stories of enslaved folks reserved only for gratification. But this is a fun-loving musical, so we won’t go there.
Strictly winner 2017, Joe McFadden, is tonight’s Narrator. His Scottish charm and boyish delivery are bowling the relentlessly participating audience over like dominoes, dealing with the varied innuendos as well as any seasoned professional. A guy a few rows back can’t stop screaming out ‘anal’ whenever the opportunity remotely presents itself, and the chap next to me is extremely happy to be able to scream out ‘penis’ (perhaps he’s not allowed to say it at home?) Nevertheless, as audience participation is an expected and revered part of the show, whatever anyone throws out there is met with steadfast appreciation and expertise by the cast.
The live band, led by musical director, Charlie Ingles, are without doubt the best I’ve had the honour to witness: absolutely effing awesome. Tight, regimented and full of essential power, it’s an unforgettable performance that has the audience charging out like greyhounds out a trap as soon as ‘Time Warp’ is belted out.
Hugh Darrant’s set design is like a warped Halloween: full of tricks, like looking directly up a wizard’s cloak. Blasts of colour reflect the madness before us, and there’s not an inch we don’t absorb.
The thing with something like the Rocky Horror Show, is that the shock value has long since eroded. It can’t replicate the effect it had when it was first performed in 1973, when it undoubtedly helped curate the Punk Rock era, sparking outrage and awe amongst those who either cherished or rejected it. But, Director, Christopher Luscombe’s vision tonight captures the essence that permeates the audience and transcends the years. It’s remorselessly blood thirsty with a deep aversion to anything benign, boring and beige. It perverts the order and encourages us to explore our fantasies in whatever shade of dark they may be.
By the end of the night, it’s more like a jump to the left, and a few stumbles to the right watching various pairs of tipsy stilettos emerge – but I’ve never experienced so much joy from watching a show.
In another fifty years I’ll either be dead, or 91. If I’m dead, well, RIP me. If I’m not, I’ll be at the Rocky Horror Show again, on the first row. And even this Janet will wear some stockings.