The Rocky Horror Show

Richard O'Brien
Playhouse Theatre

In a recent poll held by the Royal Court, The Rocky Horror Show fended off stiff competition (including Look Back in Anger) to be voted the public's favourite Royal Court production of all time. The show first opened at the Royal Court Upstairs in June 1973 and made its US premiere at the Roxy Theatre, Los Angeles in March 1974 before hitting Broadway and the big screen a year later. Despite success in London and LA, Broadway, with its fondness for Sondheim and Neil Simon, hated it and the film performed modestly at the box office. But something strange was happening on university campuses in the States - students were dressing up as characters from the show and singing along with the songs during screenings of the film. Rocky Horror had found its audience.

Judging by the crowds outside the Playhouse on Thursday night, that audience has stayed loyal, even if its nights in fishnet tights are numbered. As a Rocky Horror novice (I confess I haven't even seen the film), it was all slightly unnerving. My experience of scripted audience heckling extends as far as collective shouts of "He's behind you"; at a Rocky Horror show there are individual members of the audience who come along determined to get "the trouser joke" or "the ice cream gag" in before anyone else (including the cast) has time to speak. If you haven't seen Rocky Horror either, and you think this sounds fun, you should go right now. If not, you'll probably find it as irritating as I did.

Audience participation aside, this is an impressive production. Suzanne Shaw and Matthew Cole are hilarious as the all-American sweethearts subjected to a rude sexual awakening at the hands of a crazed transvestite from Transylvania. Steve Pemberton (soon to be followed in the role by Nigel Planer and Roger Lloyd Pack) much more than holds his own with the hecklers, and Iain Davey puts in a strong performance as the downtrodden worm who turns, Riff-Raff. Shona White, who opens and closes the show, is touchingly comic as a brassy cinema usherette who dreams of science fiction double features. David Bedella's Frank 'N' Furter is, of course, the star of the show. For Bedella, who created the role of Satan in Jerry Springer - the Opera, this seems like a walk in the park, no mean feat in platforms and fishnets.

Rocky Horror afficionados anxious to recapture their youths will love this production. For the unititiated, it has less to offer. Frank 'N' Furter is still fun, but he has lost his power to shock, and despite Christopher Luscombe's best efforts, irony is no substitute for the satirical bite this show must have had in the '70s. That said, if the audience reaction on press night is anything to go by, Rocky Horror's cult appeal lives on and its fans, quite rightly, don't care what the critics think.

Until 22 July 2006 then touring

Peter lathan reviewed this production in Newcastle and Sheila Connor in Woking.

Reviewer: Louise Hill