The 50th anniversary of Richard O’Brien’s cult musical phenomenon fast approaches in 2023, and the overwhelming impact made by its big screen adaptation back in 1975 is still felt to this day.
With audiences that transcend generational and gender boundaries able to recite its iconic songs word for word and perform its timeless dance routines, The Rocky Horror Show is beloved by its devoted fans – and it was clear that after the ordeal of the last 18 months and lockdown, that those fans in Manchester came ready to party.
The audience, many dressed in imitation of their favourite characters, were clamouring for the show to begin, and when it did – to the opening number Science Fiction/Double Feature – the energy in the room was almost palpable.
The Narrator, played with unflappable wit by Philip Franks (Heartbeat, Darling Buds of May), gives a stand-out performance.
Right from the start and throughout he maintained an excellent command over the audience, not once flinching in the face of good-natured heckling and banter from all sides as he effortlessly flavoured the usual narration sections with well observed topical references to, amongst other things, Dominic Raab’s holiday plans, and the government’s approach to, well, everything.
The satire, along with most of the gags – usually of the risqué, innuendo-laden type – landed with the audience throughout the night, drawing rapturous applause, from the stalls to the gods.
The plot remains a mystery to me still, despite having seen the film and now the play, and I fear is not really the point anyway.
It begins, nonetheless, with a young, engaged American couple, Brad and Janet, played with gusto by Strictly Come Dancing winner, Ore Oduba, and Haley Flaherty (The Mouse Trap), as they are having automobile troubles, forcing them to take refuge in a nearby castle to find a telephone.
Upon arrival, they are greeted by the other-worldly oddball Riff Raff, played by Rocky Horror veteran Kristian Lavercombe, whose monstrous mannerisms are wonderfully reminiscent of classic B-movie underlings. In this case, an underling to the enigmatic and outrageous Dr Frank N’ Furter, played by the sensational Stephen Webb, whose ensuing attempts to sexually liberate the innocent young couple makes up the gist of a story that teeters on the brink of absurdity throughout, but proudly, wearing it like a badge of honour.
The real draw for the audience is always going to be the musical set-pieces however, and everyone is soon on their feet, ecstatically ‘doing’ The Timewarp (myself included) – unsurprisingly a crowd-pleaser, and this year, of all years, perhaps more so than usual.
The musical set-pieces, arranged by Richard Hartley are outstanding throughout, with particular credit going to Haley Flaherty and Stephen Webb, who belt out the classics with aplomb.
Sweet Transvestite was another big hit with the audience, that, along with the aforementioned Timewarp, went on to receive a gratefully accepted encore. Powerful vocal, and comedic support is provided by Suzie McAdam and Lauren Ingram, who play the Usherette/Magenta, and Columbia respectively, with the latter involved in some standout physical comedy bits that drew gales of laughter from the audience as she broke into an impromptu breakdance onstage.
The cast is further complemented with the addition of Joe Allen and Ben Westhead, playing the roles of Eddie/Dr Scott, and Rocky, the titular horror from the show, respectively.
The scenery is top notch, with Hugh Durrant’s design seamlessly transitioning between remote, rainswept country roads and Dr Frank N Furter’s baroque castle interior, and later into all manner of other-worldly scenes.
The effort and care put into the set is matched by the costume designs of Sue Blaine, who was responsible for the iconic designs back in 1973 when the play made its first run. The lighting is spot on throughout the night, perfectly complementing the fabulous costumes as the stage is often alight with vibrant, at times dazzling spectacle.
All this is under the direction of Christopher Luscombe, who, having helmed the production for the last fifteen years, is a steady hand at the tiller, as it all fell wonderfully into place.
The audience were very much along for the ride, enjoying every minute of it, and participated throughout, often responding to lines given on stage with, shall we say, ‘provocative’ responses.
For the most part this fitted in with the playful, comedic mood of the play, but there are a couple of more dramatic scenes in the production that I got the distinct impression are meant to be treated more seriously, where the involvement of the audience seemed out of place; the sometimes pantomime style of the production at odds with its more pensive segments. This was only on one or two occasions though, and otherwise, it lent itself to a great party atmosphere that no doubt continued out onto the streets of Manchester, and into the wee hours.
Well, Hot Patootie, Bless my Soul, I really love that Rock N Roll! It’s a relentlessly entertaining romp from start to finish, where the pent-up energy of a post-lockdown audience was brought to bear, and is matched in intensity by accomplished and passionate performances by all involved.
Highly recommended, and certainly worth every penny of admission… and then some.
So, come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab for yourself as The Rocky Horror Show kicks off a supercharged reopening for Opera House Manchester.
The Rocky Horror Show is at Opera House Manchester until Sunday 29th August, with tickets starting form £13. Book tickets here.