THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW AT THE WOLVERHAMPTON GRAND THEATRE
Theatre Run: Monday 28 October - Saturday 2 NovemberPerformance Viewed: Monday 28 October (Press Night)
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
I had the pleasure of first reviewing this current touring production of The Rocky Horror Show in Birmingham back in January this year, and it was with very welcome open arms (and thrusting hips) that I welcomed it back to the Midlands as the show finds itself at home at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre over Halloween. The show remains fundamentally the same, bar a few incremental changes to some of the set pieces and musical number staging, and Henry Davis’ Rocky is given an injection of youthful naivete blended with a dash of vitriol over predecessor Rhydian’s more mindless interpretation, but essentially all that made the same tour so irrepressibly entertaining, gloriously mischievous and wholly recommendable earlier in the year continues to ring true.
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 remains a thrill to see that 40 years later, as the show continues 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 Dani Harmer of Tracy Beaker 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. Harmer is a bundle of chirpy, mousey innocence, occasionally shrill but mostly well suited for the part, particularly in Janet’s more naive and wholesome stages. Whereas previous tour Janet Roxanne Pallet came into her own in the character’s saucier, sexier moments, Harmer’s diminutive frame and bubbly persona makes the transition a tad more jarring.
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. As mentioned, Henry Davis, who portrayed Rocky in the 2009/2010 tour of the show, sports a suitably impressive physique and injects some shade and ire into the mostly cookie-cutter role - a recurring ‘p*ss off’ motif aimed at Frank’N’Furter, for instance, was absent from the earlier version of the tour. Ceris Hine and Jayde Westaby 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 remains one of the casts key standouts 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 inventive and 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’. Thornton was on vocal rest between performances for the evening reviewed, and a slight strain was audible in some of his bigger numbers and moments, but his sensitive take on the role meant such wobbles were sparse and certainly far from deal-breakers. 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 damaged 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, improv and audience participation 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. The only notable downside to the audience participation is purely subjective, in that the use of planted audience stooges shouting out cued lines and quips eventually became somewhat excessive and obvious, to this reviewer at least.
In all though, the 40th anniversary tour continues to prove a joyous, naughty triumph, particularly for fans of the show who are ready to experience and embrace an impressive, faithful production with a solid cast giving it their all and doing the show justice. And 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, for it remains one of the most energetic, entertaining and buoyant experiences on offer, and the pitch perfect musical theatre feature this Halloween.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 stars)
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW is running at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Monday 28th October to Saturday 2nd November 2013.
CLICK HERE for more information on the shows run at the Grand and to book your tickets!Alternatively phone the Box Office directly on 01902 42 92 12.
Press tickets for this performance of Rocky Horror Show were provided courtesy of Wolverhampton Grand directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.