Rocky Horror Show – Palace Theatre

A testament to the popularity of Richard O’Brien’s cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show, nearly fifty years after its release, are the fans of all ages wearing costumes, lined up outside the Palace Theatre on a freezing, foggy winter’s night.

Looking around the theatre, there are plenty of people dressed as Magenta, wearing maid costumes, and there are many sporting sparkly hats as worn by Columbia. There are even a few brave souls dressed up as Frank N Furter. Worry not though, if fancy-dress isn’t your thing, or if you’re a ‘Rocky Horror virgin’, you’re still welcome and won’t be made to feel uncomfortable.

Rocky Horror Show Palace Theatre Manchester Theatre Review
Picture Credit – The Other Richard.

Rocky Horror Show‘s plot is loosely inspired by the science fiction movies of the 1950s and tells of lovers, Brad Majors (Ore Oduba) and Janet Weisse (Haley Flaherty), as their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. They seek assistance from the residents of a nearby castle. But Frank N Furter (Stephen Webb) isn’t quite who he appears to be.

It’s not very often that you see a play where the audience is actively encouraged to shout out insults to the cast. But audience participation is crucial to stage adaptations and the cast are well prepared for this, pausing in the right places, yet not responding to the heckles. In this performance they were belted out with perfect timing from a particularly rowdy audience member, who had either seen the show at least a dozen times, or was a plant.

It’s tradition that only the narrator, played by Philip Franks, can acknowledge and respond to the audience’s insults. Known for his performance in The Darling Buds of May, Franks is on fire as The Narrator, skilfully ad-libbing and making the audience howl with laughter. He pokes fun at topical subjects; the Tories and their parties, Nadine Dorries, and Prince Andrew are all in for a grilling.

Rocky Horror Show Palace Theatre Manchester Theatre Review
Picture Credit – The Other Richard.

Playing the role of Brad Majors is the 2016 winner of Strictly Come Dancing, Ore Oduba. Everybody knows that he’s a talented TV presenter who can dance. But can he sing? Skilfully inflecting his voice with a convincing American accent, his vocals are good, particularly in his solo at the end. However, at times, such as Dammit Janet, he is overpowered by his partner Haley Flaherty.

I am going to stick my neck out for the chopping block here by saying that Flaherty is actually a better Janet than Susan Sarandon, who plays the character in the film. Her vocals are incredible and soar above everybody else’s, including the band of live musicians seated above the stage. Flaherty is by far the best singer out of the cast, and demonstrates this in her song, Touch Me, where her uptight character encounters sexual liberation.

As soon as he appears, draped in a long black cloak, Stephen Webb has the audience whooping and cheering. They all know that his arrival prompts Frank N Furter’s iconic song, Sweet Transvestite. Webb performs this song to perfection, lapping up the audience’s delight as he struts across the stage in heels, fishnet stockings and a basque.

Rocky Horror Show Palace Theatre Manchester Theatre Review
Picture Credit – The Other Richard.

Similar to the way fans feel about Doctor Who, those who have seen Rocky Horror Show performed before will have their favourite Frank N Furter. In the film, Tim Curry is magnificent and can’t be beaten. Personally, David Badella is my favourite on-stage Frank.

Stephen Webb does a brilliant job physically playing this infamous role, but his American accent doesn’t sound authentic (his Transylvanian accent is even worse!). He also doesn’t stop for dramatic pauses or put emphasis on the correct lines the way that other Frank N Furters do. He might be making the role his own, but it all feels a little tame compared to others.

On the other hand, Kristian Lavercombe has really honed the role of Riff Raff, played in the film by its creator, Richard O’Brien. Lavercombe perfectly matches Richard O’Brien vocally, both in song and in spoken word, fantastically rolling his ‘r’ sounds. He has played the role for over 1800 performances and everything from his limping gait, his sly mannerisms and uniquely nasal vocals is pitch-perfect.

Rocky Horror Show Palace Theatre Manchester Theatre Review
Picture Credit – The Other Richard.

From the opening number, Science Fiction, Double Feature, sang brilliantly by usherette Suzie McAdam, there is a clear love for 1950s science fiction movies that pervades both the film and stage versions of Rocky Horror Show. It is lovingly encorporated into the stage design here, as an enormous film reel sweeps across the top of the stage. Nick Richings‘ lighting and Hugh Durrant‘s stage design all have a cheesy, overly animated, Flash Gordon appearance to them, effectively invoking nostalgia and charm.

Although I have seen it done better in the past, Rocky Horror Show is still a fantastic theatrical experience guaranteed to warm the cockles and dispel those January Blues! There is honestly nothing more pleasing than doing the Time Warp in the aisles; finally experiencing some sense of communal joy and normality that we’ve been missing for the past two years.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Rocky Horror Show is at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 22nd January, but is touring the UK until July. Venues and dates can be found here

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