Culture Writer Jasmine Sandhar finds The Rocky Horror Show to be an invigorating music, taking on the genres of science fiction and horror
Witnessing people walking around the grandiose Alexandra Theatre bar in outfits composed of fishnets and multicoloured sparkles is an amusing spectacle etched into the back of my mind from last night. Indeed, this juxtaposition was merely the entry point into the topsy-turvy world of ‘a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania’.
For those who are utterly confounded by this introduction, The Rocky Horror Show is a musical created by Richard O’Brien that pays tribute to the tropes within mid-20th century science fiction and horror films. By throwing together the two plots of a mad scientist intent on creating the perfect man with a newly engaged couple ensnared within a spooky old castle, O’Brien has crafted a pandemonium of insanity and hilarity that has allowed it to become the ‘the biggest cult musical of all time’.
Christopher Luscombe’s production of this show has toured for the last sixteen years with resounding success and it is clear to see why. The energy of the cast was electric with every single member performing their characters to the absolute maximum. As soon as the pink usherette (Suzie McAdam) hit the stage with her opening number that welcomed us all, I knew that there was only brilliant acting and singing to come. Janet (Haley Flaherty) and Brad (Richard Meek) sounded wonderful together with their blend of sweet soprano and tenor tones. Their body language and physical chemistry was also integral to the portrayal of the couple’s decline throughout.
One of my favourite roles was the narrator (Philip Franks), whose bedtime-story voice was soothing and sage, especially when including snippets of snarky political commentary on former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. However, unsurprisingly, the star of the show by far was Dr Frank N Furter, played by Stephen Webb. Whether he was sexily strutting around the stage in heels or chillingly chasing his next victim with a chainsaw, Webb managed to capture every angle of this multifaceted character with precision.
Perhaps the most memorable scenes were the ones of Frank N Furter in the bedroom with Janet and Brad respectively. I was really excited to see the way this would unfold in the theatre setting, given the film’s iconic camera shots of seductive shadows, and set designer Hugh Durrant did not disappoint. Vertically hanging in the middle of the stage was the most beautiful pink velvet bed, which allowed the actors to remain face-on to the audience whilst also engaging in the intimate activities required. Lighting designer Nick Richings also helped with this by managing to create a simultaneously dark and rosy sensuous ambience, but still spotlighting the presence of Riff Raff to maintain a comedic edge. Although costume designer Sue Blane did not necessarily have too much work to do in this specific scene, the glitz and glamour of the outfits throughout were captivating to say the least. Special mention must be given to the incredible fit of Rocky’s (Ben Westhead) leopard-patterned briefs, too!
As someone who has only watched the film and never seen this theatre production before, I have to say I felt very left out. This is simply because the audience participation was nothing like I have ever seen, with people shouting out the lines of the chorus of phantoms as though they were the performers themselves. When they were not sticking to the script, audience members built up a witty repartee with the actors, producing original and unprecedented moments of live comedy. It was thrilling to see everyone stand up and join in with the legendary Time Warp number, too, which the dance troupe did an exceptional job of recreating with animated movement.
All in all, I cannot think of a more invigorating musical to watch. The combination of catchy rock and roll tunes with the most exaggerated drama you can imagine is what makes The Rocky Horror Show so timeless. This camp extravaganza of fun and fancy is certainly not one for the faint-hearted, as those who dare to buy a ticket will have to do as Frank N Furter says and ‘give yourself over to absolute pleasure’.
The Rocky Horror Show will continue playing at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until Saturday 1st April 2023.
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