Reviewed by: Matthew Forrest
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
It’s 50 years since the Rocky Horror Show premiered in the West End. The cult classic is currently mid-way through a UK tour arriving in Manchester this week, for a week-long run that sees this latest production still as vibrant, outrageous and despite being in its golden years, as culturally significant as ever.
The story focuses on a typical All-American couple, Brad and Janet, newly engaged the pair, when out for a drive one evening, in the midst of a brutal storm, experience a flat tyre. In desperation they seek help from the occupants of a sinister castle belonging to Dr Frank N Furter, where he lives with his servants, Riff Raff, Magenta, and Columbia. However, things are a little odd at the good Doctor’s residence and soon the host’s hospitality and his latest experiment will test Brad and Janet’s relationship to the limit.
Richard O’ Brien’s love letter to the horror/science fiction films of the 1950’s is still as flamboyant, fun and bursting with life. All the familiar tropes are here, mad scientists, crazed aliens, and a hero couple who have bitten off way more than they can chew! O’Brien’s script takes pot shots at the genre and plays fast and loose with gender roles and expectations.
First timers coming to the show won’t know what’s hit them! The show has a huge cult following, again evident tonight with several audience members dressed as their favourite characters (I’d be interested to see the sales figures for French maid costumes, when the show is out on tour). They bring so much more than just dressing up, becoming a character themselves anticipating the script’s next line bringing a touch of unpredictability to proceedings. The part of the Narrator this evening was expertly played by Reece Budin who handled tonight’s outbursts fantastically well, leading to numerous gags about the current Conservative government and the production of The Lion King showing down the road at the Palace, which again keeps the performance fresh and dangerous.
It highlights the hard work that has gone on during rehearsal, when the cast look like they’re having so much fun, which is evident from tonight’s performance. Richard Meek and Hayley Flaherty are in superb form as the awkward, virginal, yet far from innocent couple Brad and Janet.
Stephen Webb is exceptional as the iconic Dr Frank N Furter, it’s a performance packed full of charisma with a huge spoonful of menace, he more than delivers.
They are solidly supported by Kristian Lavercombe, Suzie McAdam, and Darcy Finden. Lavercombe has now appeared in more performances of the show then any other actor, and it shows as he plays the sleazy butler Riff-Raff, to perfection. Whilst McAdam pulls double duty as Magenta and bookends the show as the Usherette, performing a fantastic rendition of Science Fiction/Double Feature. The two of them do a fantastic duet, on the unmistakable Time Warp, leading to all the audience up dancing way before we’d even got to the interval. Finden puts in a feisty, energetic turn as the unpredictable Columbia.
The show does have its flaws, the final act is considerably weaker than what precedes it. In addition I found the lyrics difficult to hear in the ensemble number, Rose Tint My World which does frustrate.
It’s a mark of a great show, that even after all these years, it can still shock, entertain and remain relevant and Rocky Horror Show certainly manages this and so, so much. Absurd, timeless and well worth a watch. Go see for yourself, and give in to Pleasure!
Rocky Horror Show is at the Manchester Opera House until 25/02/23
Tickets available at: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-rocky-horror-show/opera-house-manchester/