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The Rocky Horror Show

Richard O'Brien's outrageous camp classic rock horror musical
Kristian Lavercombe (Riff Raff) and Laura Harrison (Magenta) - credit David Freeman
New Theatre, Oxford, Mon 25 March - Sat 30 March 2019

March 26, 2019
'Don't dream it, be it'

I remember buying The Rocky Horror Picture Show on VHS as a teenager.I had never seen the film, but the iconic lips on the cover must have called out a siren song to me, because I bought it blind; no idea of the story or the cult following it already had. Decades later, I’ve seen the film a fair few times, gingerly tried out the new version (Let’s Do The Time Warp Again, with a fabulous Laverne Cox stepping into Frank NFurter’s heels) and stepped out to witness various stage versions over the years. Every single time I watch it is like the first. The plot is just bonkers. While it starts in a straightforward way, with a young, virginal couple stranded in a storm, the following couple of hours is nothing less than a mad trip. Bring into that the audience participation: fancy dress, sequins, top hats, loud, sweary and well-practiced heckling and security checks on the door to ensure that absolutely no confetti makes it into the auditorium, and you have got yourself a rather raucous Monday evening in Oxford.

I’ve visited the New Theatre quite a lot over the past few weeks and while there is always an excited air of antici…pation whatever the show, the Rocky Horror Show brings with it something special.The audience were chomping at the bit for the show to start, so when the house lights went down, a cheer went up, and the rollercoaster 'late night, double feature picture show' was out of the slips.

Joanne Clifton might be best known for her Strictly-winning dancing skills, but her other theatrical talents should not be underestimated. Her performance as Janet was note-perfect; her journey from wholesome young girl, frightened of everything, to sexy, rocking vixen, seamless in its delivery. Fiancé Brad, played faultlessly by Ben Adams of A1 boyband fame, also belts out his numbers, making his Y-fronts and white vest look rather fetching at the same time.

However, it’s the moment we meet Frank N Furter that always dazzles for me, and tonight’s show was no different. Unrecognisable and extremely sexy in his basque and fishnets, Duncan James was an absolute tour de force in his opening performance as the Sweet Transvestite and the crowd reaction was epic. I think this role will definitely prove to be a huge highlight of his career, and his performance took his vocal talents to new heights – I really was blown away.

The dry, wry and witty interjections from our Narrator, Philip Franks, were hilarious and his asides and improvised quips to the audience heckles added even more of an edge to the performance with a genius impression of Theresa May throwing the audience into near-hysterical cackles.

The entire show was just a loud, boisterous barrel of laughs, speeding through set pieces and whipping the audience up into a near frenzy, for a Monday evening anyway.My only niggle would be that the role of Eddie was not given as much focus as it usually is, and the Eddie/Colombia relationship most certainly took a backseat for this version of the show.Nevertheless, that did not detract from the high energy of the iconic show put on by an outstanding cast and faultless band.

I have been to the theatre many times. I’d even go as far as saying that I’m an enormous musical theatre fan. But no amount of warning could have prepared me for the insanity of The Rocky Horror Show...

A trait of some theatre-goers that usually annoys me is when they decide that they can sing better than the highly trained professional that I have paid good money to be watching. So, before entering an alternate universe last Friday, I said in passing to my friend that I hoped nobody would sing along and shout out like that rude crowd at Grease. My friend laughed at me. It wasn’t until the first chord had bounced around the auditorium that I fully understood why.

Constant hilarious interjections from the crowd in a pantomime-like style were ingeniously responded to by the fabulous Narrator (Philip Franks) who managed to fit in jokes about a no-deal Brexit, shouting profanities from Shakespeare plays and the descent of his career all with perfect comedic timing and leaving the audience guffawing all evening. To quote Franks, we were ‘baying like wolves’ throughout as we were utterly transfixed by the lunacy of it all!

One of said wolves had brought along props to create the sound effects of specific moments as they happened including rubber gloves to twang! Such was the insanity of the Rocky fans.

The show would not be the same without the spectacular costumes. I don’t just the mean the saucy attire of the stunning cast, but the confidence of anyone who dressed up in the audience must be awarded. To venture out on a Friday evening after your tediously long day in the office is one thing, but to venture out in fishnet tights, sparkly heels, alarmingly short hot pants and magnificent makeup is quite astonishing! Yet, despite the brilliant efforts of those around me, I couldn't tear my gaze away from the flawless performers and overwhelming excitement on stage.

From the extreme diversity of soulful, sexy, scary Frank-N-Furter (Blue’s Duncan James) to the unbelievable acrobatics of Rocky (Welsh champion gymnast, Callum Evans), the cast were marvellous.

Joanne Clifton’s Janet was also a lovely surprise as I had only ever seen the World Ballroom Showdance Champion through the TV screen as a professional dancer and winner of Strictly Come Dancing. Suddenly, her American Smooth was switched with an American accent and her Samba was swapped for singing. She effortlessly belted out her songs and brought so much energy to the already bonkers stage!

There were a few moments of confusion, primarily Columbia’s random minute of screaming and jumping around the stage in the second Act, which I felt was a bit unnecessary and seemed to just be filling time. On the whole however, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I feel that it was something to be experienced for I didn’t simply enjoy a high quality of singing or the outstanding dancing, but I enjoyed being absorbed by the crazy world of it all. Not many other shows could get 1000 people dancing in the aisles before the end of Act 1!

I for one, would definitely do the Time Warp again.

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