ROCKY HORROR SHOW AT THE NEW ALEXANDRA THEATRE, BIRMINGHAM
Theatre Run: Monday 28 January - Saturday 2 February 2013
Performance Viewed: Monday 28 January (Press Night)
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
There are very few, if any, theatre (and film) productions which foster such a frenzy of audience interaction and anticipation than the Rocky Horror name, and it’s a thrill to see that 40 years later, as the stage show once again goes on tour to celebrate the milestone that it has lost none of this excitement and fervour. With almost as much spectacle and entertainment from the audience as the show itself, newcomers and veterans alike will find themselves having an inimitable, incomparable theatre experience.
Whilst its plot remains as brilliantly postmodern and obtuse as ever, the soundtrack is the real draw and still holds up as strong as ever, with such eclectic favourites as ‘The Timewarp’, ‘Sweet Transvestite’ and ‘Hot Patootie’ genuinely getting the audience to their feet and being delivered by a cast and company on fine form. Ben Forster, recent winner of ITV’s Superstar and Roxanne Pallett of Emmerdale fame make a fitting Brad and Janet, with Forster in particular benefiting from the inclusion of Brad-centric solo ‘Once in a while’ which was omitted from the movie and some stage productions but is a welcome moment of pause amongst the second act madness to once again ground the central relationship, and a number which Forster nails both emotionally and vocally. Pallett sells the mousey, naive, wholesome Janet of the outset well, but really comes into her own as the character transforms into a belting, sultry siren, exuding confidence, presence and raw sex appeal that even Susan Sarandon’s definitive Janet of the movie couldn’t quite reach.
Screen and stage veteran Philip Franks gives a terrific, self-deprecating turn as the shows narrator, throwing himself into the camp and pantomime of the show with real gusto and wit. X Factor alumnus Rhydian evokes giggles and a general warmth as the titular Rocky, possessing the appropriate physique and vocals despite the character having very little in the way of musical moments. Ceris Hine and Abigail Jaye give solid performances as Columbia and Magenta, though in this particular production both seem disappointingly overshadowed by the performances and characters around them. Kristian Lavercombe is something of a standout as Riff Raff, offering shades of Richard O’ Brien’s turn without ever resorting to base mimicry, and delivering terrific vocals and a suitably vibrant and energetic performance throughout. It is rare indeed for this particular reviewer to be more engaged and captivated by Riff Raff than his two female cohorts, but that is precisely what Lavercombe achieved here.
The real star of the show, however, as is to be expected, is Frank N Furter himself - the iconic central transvestite, and West End veteran Oliver Thornton acquits himself in the role brilliantly. Again, there is admirably no defaulting to imitation, with Thornton giving a slightly more subdued, tender performance than Tim Curry’s iconic bombastic realisation of the character. Thornton’s masterful and inventive original take on the role sees him explore different shades of the character, at times presenting a much more sinister and borderline psychotic Frank (notable in sequences such as a venomous ‘Planet Schmanet Janet’) through to a moving, soulful and brilliantly restrained interpretation of ‘Don’t dream it, be it’ and in particular ‘I’m going home’. Past performers have often taken the more resonant moments such as these and hammed them up with over-acting or camp, whereas here Thornton presents a wounded man whose excesses seem almost forgivable as something of a wounded wayward soul trying to find where he belongs and can be who he wants to be. It’s a brilliant performance that finds some of the pathos and depth to the character that at face value isn’t always apparent. And he does, of course, look particularly fetching in the characters trademark costume, exuding the necessary sex appeal and raw charisma throughout.
There’s some neat invention with the shows’ lighting and production design in particular given the touring nature of the production, though Rocky Horror is and always has been firmly tongue-in-cheek and reflective of the low-budget science fiction and horror double features of old, and moments of unexpected hiccups, for instance a door not opening prompting Riff Raff to appear from around it, and the narrator corpsing on occasion, all leant to the loose, spontaneous and endearing vibe of the show overall. Rife with sexuality and innuendo, this is certainly not a show for the young or overly conservative, but as mentioned for a show that pokes fun at itself and encourages audience participation, it is the perfect raucous night out for those who don’t mind some mildly saucier content.
In all, this 40th anniversary tour is a triumph, particularly for fans of the show who are ready to experience and embrace an impressive, faithful production with a terrific cast giving it their all and doing the show justice. Some of the contemporary references thrown in throughout feel a little tacked on and redundant, in particular allusions to 50 shades of grey and even Gangnam Style felt a little unbefitting and topical for a show that’s become so iconic and specific with its era and intertextuality, but such moments were fleeting and did nothing to harm the overall vim, zest and impact of the show as a whole. Whilst it’s not quite a five star production, rest assured for those who can embrace the rude, whacky world of Rocky Horror, you will certainly be in for a five star experience, and for what it’s worth was the most fun I have had at the theatre in a long time indeed, and if I could would be timewarping my way to see it all over again.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 stars)
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW is running at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Monday 28 January to Saturday 2 February 2013.
Alternatively phone the Telephone Booking line on 0844 871 3011.
Press tickets for this performance of Rocky Horror Show were provided courtesy of The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.