The Rocky Horror Show
Ambassador Theatre Group
Opera House, Manchester
Looked at in the cold light of day, The Rocky Horror Show, now forty-three years old, is very thin on plot and character, and can boast only one, genuinely memorable tune. Then again, the same could probably be said of Cats. The latter would most likely surge ahead on lyrical quality. As for which would win the battle of the costumes, well, it's all down to personal taste, I suppose.
Richard O'Brien's creation—a cult show, if ever there was one—is a largely affectionate spoof of 1950s American sci-fi films. It is also part Hammer horror, part Glam-rock, part Carry On. Oh, and there's lots of songs, too.
Watching this latest production, it strikes me that perhaps the best comparison is with the BBC's The Good Old Days (no doubt, Leonard Sachs is spinning in his grave as I write this). What would either show be without the full-on participation of its audience?
Can you imagine a Rocky Horror Show where none of the audience dressed up, where no one shouted out those ribald alternative lines of dialogue, where no one got up to do "The Time Warp"? No, on second thoughts, don't even try to imagine it. It's unthinkable.
The story: the car of newly engaged and sqeaky-clean all-American couple, Brad and Janet has a flat tyre. It's pouring with rain but Brad saw a castle, not far back. Perhaps the owner will let them phone for help? Little do they know, the castle is temporary home to Frank-N-Furter, a "tranvestite transexual from Transylvania" (that's Transylvania the faraway planet, by the way, not Transylvania the region in modern-day Romania). Nervously, Brad tugs the ancient doorbell and well, you probably know the rest and, if you don't, there really is little point in my trying to explain.
Charlie Condou is the youngest Narrator of any production I've seen (not to mention, in the view of my young guest, far and away the best-looking). His willingness to play along with the persistent interjections ('heckling' is not the right word) of the audience is a key element in heightening the perception that this is not so much a fun show, more a fancy dress party for a thousand or so friends.
Haley Flaherty (Janet) and Richard Meek (Brad) make the right kind of sugary confection as the naïve young couple, ripe for corruption. Kristian Lavercombe's Riff Raff brings an element of Marty Feldman to O'Brien's original (and no doubt pleases his 'Master', by hitting all his high notes). Sophie Linder-Lee makes the best of Columbia and her antics after inhaling the fiendish libido-boosting gas are among the highlights of the night. Dominic Andersen must be the most buff and athletic of any Rocky yet seen, while Kay Murphy (doubling as the Usherette) gives us a raunchy, shameless Magenta, high-kicking at an intergalactic level.
Each production of The Rocky Horror Show revolves around the latest incarnation of Frank-N-Furter, each Frank being mercilessly held up for comparison with Tim Curry's imperious original. Happily, Liam Tamne's Frank looks good, sounds good and works his way through his far from good deeds with deliciously pervy relish.
A word of warning: this is comfortably (or uncomfortably, depending on your disposition) the bawdiest production of the show I have seen. Sexual acts are blatantly and repeatedly mimed—though if that sort of thing bothered you, you probably wouldn't be here, would you?
The band, under the musical direction of Ben van Tienen, has the auditorium rocking throughout. Good work.
The show is backloaded with sentimental rock ballads which slow the pace and move the fun to a back burner. The high levels of raucous interaction in tonight's performance only serves to emphasise the slackening in pace. No matter, not only are the cast—to a man, woman and alien transsexual—fine singers, no one has forgotten what is yet to come: another chance to get to your feet and do the "Time Warp".
Having played its part, unflaggingly (and often, wittily) the audience all but brings the house down at the finale. This is undoubtedly the loudest ovation I have ever heard at the Opera House.
Thanks for a great night out to the cast, the band, the crew but, as the redoubtable Leonard, turning to the audience, would have put it: "Chiefly, yourselves!"
Reviewer: Martin Thomasson