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New Theatre, Oxford, before going on International Tour

The Rocky Horror Show
5.0Reviewer's Rating

This touring incarnation of The Rocky Horror Show is pretty much everything that you would expect or want from the famous cult musical. If you detest this kind of thing, stay away. If you have never seen it but are open-minded or curious, then have a go. You will probably adore it. If you have seen it before and loved it, this Rocky Horror Show will not disappoint. Personally, I had a great time.

So what is The Rocky Horror Show? It’s a kind of pastiche satirical pantomime for grown ups who love adolescent humour and sexual innuendo and who enjoy references to various aspects of popular culture. It has catchy music and hilarious lyrics, a lot of cross-dressing, and some very louche sexuality. It is very contemporary in the ways that it deals with sexual identity themes. It sends up rather blissfully the horror films of the 1930s and 1950s – Frankenstein, Dracula and The Old Dark House, for a start – and also the science fiction films that were the staples of the drive in movie theatres in the USA back in that era. Listen carefully for the film titles referenced in the opening number. That song starts with an Usherette who more or less gives you all the clues you need about what is being satirised and referenced. It also has a remarkably touching childlike quality at times.

At one level The Rocky Horror Show is adolescent and delightfully self-indulgent. At the same time it is extremely sophisticated, knowing and smart. It is witty non-stop. Nowadays it also has an audience that comes in costume as some of the characters, that knows a lot of the lines, and that participates energetically in the show, singing along, anticipating dialogue and commenting sometimes outrageously on what is going on. This travelling production has Philip Franks as a charming, knowing Narrator who engages hilariously with the audience at times, brings everything bang up-to-date with references to Brexit and contemporary politicians and thus the suitable horror characters we know from that, and who is pretty good at ad-libbing when some of the audience perpetrate particularly sharp wise-cracks.

The production, as directed by Chris Luscombe, could not be better. It pays homage to its sources as much as it satirises them, and there is a warmth and pleasure emanating from the stage that would be hard to resist. Richard O’Brien’s script and songs are still remarkably apt to today while being very 1970s. Laura Harrison, who starts the show as the Usherette and also plays the role of Magenta, has a wonderful voice and comic presence. Joanne Clifton is brilliant as Janet, Ben Adams is very appealing and as clunky as he should be as Brad, while Kistian Lavercombe’s Riff Raff and Miracle Chance’s Columbia have some stellar moments. Callum Evans steals several scenes as a very athletic Rocky. And Duncan James simply nails it as a pan-sexual, mischievous Frank N Furter. The filmic set by Hugh Durrant is a very fine playing space – just ample enough and yet also suitably tacky. Sue Blane’s costumes, mirrored by many in the audience, are downright iconic. I enjoyed the choreography by Nathan M Wright and I think that all the musicians should be praised for their playing. I have to say too that I found this one of the few recent musicals in which people actually sang without forcing their voices and therefore were able to convey nuances of emotion and reaction that could be funny or moving as required. The sound design was suitably brash but not overpowering.

Chris Luscombe and his cast deserve major praise for holding together and conveying the myriad elements of song, satire, nostalgia, send-up and pantomime fun that this show purveys. If you have seen it before, you will be happy with this “take” on the show. If you have never seen it but are curious, this is a superior introduction to some brilliantly wacky material.

  • Musical
  • By Richard O'Brien
  • Directed by Chistopher Luscombe
  • Choreography by Nathan M Wright
  • Cast includes: Duncan James, Philip Franks, Joanne Clifton, Ben Adams, Laura Harrison, Miracle Chance, Kristian Lavercombe, Callum Evans
  • New Theatre, Oxford, before going on International Tour

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper came to the UK to study at Oxford and stayed, captivated by the culture and history of the welcoming and tolerant society of Britain. He founded the magazine Opera Now. He was a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting and a member of the team that started Classic FM on which he broadcast shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature.

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