Review: The Rocky Horror Show (New Wimbledon Theatre)

My personal journey in the Rocky Horror universe goes back quite a long way. My mum saw it on stage in 1980 at our local theatre, and I remember reading the programme and being a little puzzled by the pictures.

By 1986 the film was available on VHS and we rented it. A revelation for a teenager! I still maintain that Tim Curry in fishnets is strangely hot, and have watched the film many times since.

But, aside from seeing the stage production as filmed, this is my first rodeo at the theatre version of Richard O’Brien’s brilliant, B-movie influenced, cult musical. I’m not a cosplayer, but enjoy seeing those who are – and there were plenty of Usherettes, Magentas, Janets and Columbias around tonight.

The Rocky Horror Show started as a tiny fringe production upstairs at the Royal Court, nearly fifty years ago. Over time it has grown and developed, but still retains the connection with fans with the constant breaking of the fourth wall, and encouraged callbacks (example: when Janet is first mentioned, you shout “Slut!”).

A fun (and short, at 2 hours including interval) musical for the grown-ups, this tour benefits from seasoned ‘Transylvanian’ performers in the roles of Frank ‘n’ Furter, Brad, Janet, and Riff Raff. As the Narrator, Jackie Clune brings her stand-up experience to the role to spar with the audience and keep the show moving.

Production shot from The Rocky Horror Show, 2022

Stephen Webb’s Frank is cheeky, sexy, dominating and just a wee bit dangerous, with great voice and moves. It’s hard to take your eyes off him once he makes his entrance.

Richard Meek’s Brad and Haley Flaherty’s Janet are also note perfect and convincingly transform from the naive geeks we meet in their first scene, while Kristian Lavercombe surely carries the spirit of Richard O’Brien’s original alien in his heart.

The lighting design (by Nick Richings) envelopes both cast and audience, making proceedings feel like a rock concert more than a musical, and the set by Hugh Durrant includes a wrap around film strip in which the band perform and occasionally a character or two (perhaps the cause of the short show stop last night between Touch-A Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me and Once in a While).

The plot, such as it is, and the songs are inspired by B-movie tropes and conventions, such as mentioned by the Usherette in Science Fiction Double Feature which opens the show.

Boy and girl find themselves in peril from extra terrestrials, sex maniacs, and frozen delivery boys. I told you this show was silly. It is also often crude and rude, but above all it is FUN.

O’Brien’s remarkable score, arranged originally by Richard Hartley and now interpreted by musical supervisor Greg Arrowsmith and musical director Charlie Ingles, continues to sparkle.

The reprise of Time Warp pulling folks to their feet to do that “jump to the left, and a step to the right” is a joy, while Gareth Owen’s sound design ensures not a note is missed or a voice lost in the mix throughout the show.

Production shot from The Rocky Horrro Show, 2022

Joe Allen’s Eddie/Dr Scott are both a lot of fun, while Suzie McAdam’s Usherette/Magenta and Darcy Finden’s Columbia bring both menace and a touch of vulnerability to proceedings.

And my favourite Frank song in the show, I’m Going Home, doesn’t disappoint, leading to an ending where even his creation, the titular Rocky Horror (Ben Westhead) has a heart.

“Don’t dream it, be it” goes the Floor Show sequence, and The Rocky Horror Show still continues to fly the flag for diversity, gender identity and self-expression, and as such is an important and historic piece of theatre.

Bravo to O’Brien (who turned 80 this year) and director Christopher Luscombe for keeping this rock ‘n’ roll behemoth on the road.

You can see The Rocky Horror Show at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week until 26 November, and then it continues on tour – book tickets here.

*****

Image credit: David Freeman

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