The Rocky Horror Show

Richard O'Brien
Richmond Theatre

Oliver Thornton in The Rocky Horror Show
The Rocky Horror Show
The Rocky Horror Show

The rapacious Mr Frank-N-Furter pauses to muse: “It’s not easy, having a good time.” Well, it is if you have the fortune to be attending the show in which this not-so-sweet transvestite is the centrepiece. Now in its 40th year, one might have expected Richard O’Brien’s musical—the very definition of cult—to be showing its age.

But, as vibrantly and vigorously staged by Christopher Luscombe, the show can seldom have looked in ruder health. Luscombe’s delicious anniversary production proves a dirty-minded joy, and demonstrates the enduring appeal of this one-of-a-kind musical’s delirious mix of sci-fi spoof, camp horror and all round midnight-movie-derived excess.

It probably helps that Luscombe has experience of directing the show before but is coming to it here with an all-new design team who contribute some fresh and cheeky touches. The evening is a blast from the moment Abigail Jaye’s Usherette slinks on stage to belt a gorgeous “Science Fiction/Double Feature” and it sustains momentum, even when the show’s corruption-of-American-innocents plot starts to get cluttered in the patchily-written second half.

Not that the rowdiest crowd that Richmond Theatre’s seen in a while needed any convincing of the show’s greatness last night. (Un)dressed to impress, on their feet as soon as "The Timewarp" began and ever-ready with a filthy heckle, the audience’s adoration for the show and its “don’t dream it; be it” philosophy was palpable.

It’s down to Luscombe and his team that that philosophy still ends up sounding more transgressive than quaint. A crack band headed by pianist and MD Tony Castro make the songs sizzle, so that numbers you may have hardly noticed before emerge freshly minted. And a fine cast doesn’t flag. Sam Attwater and Roxanne Pallett are simpering perfection as Brad and Janet, duetting punchily on “Dammit, Janet”. Pallett’s singing gets screechy at times, but she delivers on a hilariously sultry “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” and indulges in some epic vocalising when being seduced by Frank. The fresh-faced Attwater, meanwhile, sings a sweet “Once In A While”.

Kristian Lavercombe’s Riff Raff cackles with maniacal zeal and Harry Neale’s sculpted Rocky is madly endearing, while Philip Franks’s Narrator—who’s given a well-received topical quip about 1970s BBC TV presenters—gets the night’s biggest laugh with an ad-lib directed at an overly-mouthy audience member.

And, in a performance to rival even Tim Curry’s definitive turn, Oliver Thornton proves a fruitily delectable Frank-N-Furter, strutting and shaking with fervour, savouring his consonants (“Geeve yourself over to absoloot play-sure!”), bringing the house down with the crossing of a leg or the arching of an eyebrow. Somehow, Thornton also manages to locate a melancholy core in the character too, investing his big closing numbers—especially a stunning “I’m Going Home”—with unexpected emotion.

Don’t dream it: see it.

The 40th anniversary tour continues until October at Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Bromley, Leeds, Manchester, Woking, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, Glasgow, Bristol, Oxford, Bradford, Dunfermline.

Reviewer: Alex Ramon

Are you sure?