After the last couple of years of lockdowns, throat-swabbing, mask-wearing and self-isolating madness, and in the ongoing time of a global pandemic, what more could one want than sparkly hats, the creation of man, basques-a-plenty and excellent live (gasp!) rock ‘n’ roll?
Welcome to The Rocky Horror Show, which opened at the New Theatre on a chilly Monday night to an audience that was, quite frankly, ready to embrace the insanity. What’s a little more absurdity in the scheme of things?
For those who do not know the narrative of this show…well, join the club; no matter how many times I’ve seen it (original motion picture, recent remake, various stage performances) there are still aspects of the story that surprise me each time. Ultimately it is the story of Janet and Brad, a wholesome couple, newly engaged, who are travelling to visit their former college professor (“Dr Scott!”), but when their car breaks down on the way, must seek refuge (and a telephone) in a nearby mansion. How convenient.
What ensues is for audience members to enjoy and try to keep up with. Monday’s audience seemed to include a good mix of those who know the show very well indeed – full costume, full participation – those of us who have previously enjoyed the show but aren’t quite at the ‘shouting at the cast’ stage, and a smattering of newbies. You can tell from the whispered gasps who hasn’t experienced the show before. That’s half the fun – enjoying the reactions of Rocky Horror virgins.
This new world tour of the show is just as fun and frenetic as any I have seen. Starring Stephen Webb as a sexy, masculine Frank N Furter with a permanently cocked eyebrow, we are in good hands as he welcomes Janet and Brad into his humble abode. With his motley crew of sycophantic, ghoulish servants (“SLAVES!”) he struts around the stage exuding an arrogance that is key to the role. I was transfixed, and so were our innocent interlopers, Brad and Janet (brilliantly performed by Ore Oduba and Haley Flaherty). Both actors pitched that wholesome 1950s American couple just right, allowing time in their dialogue for the audience to shout their well-practiced heckles throughout while remaining completely straight-faced and within character. And what a stunning couple of singing voices.
However, the two performances that stood out for me were those of Riff Raff and the Narrator. Kristian Lavercombe reprises his role as Riff Raff and is now a part of the Rocky Horror furniture, having over 1800 performances under his belt – apparently having performed in the show more often than anyone in its 48-year history. He is pretty well-rehearsed by now, as you can imagine, and embodies the character with an effortless sense of sinister menace.
The Narrator of this show is key to pulling it all together and ensuring the audience are along for the ride. Phillip Franks is nigh on perfect for the job. His asides and responses to the audience interjections are whip-smart, very current and laugh-out-loud funny. His delivery is pitch perfect and the scholarly air he brings to proceedings only makes the show more enjoyable in its juxtaposition to the bonkers action raging around him.
I recommend anyone who wants a mid-winter, post-Christmas, pick-me-up gets down to see this show immediately – it’s a wild ride of a pantomime for consenting adults.