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REVIEW - Rocky Horror Show keeps on returning as it keeps on giving and the fans love it!


We were invited to the Manchester Opera House on Monday to see The Rocky Horror Show. See what our reviewer Karen Ryder had to say about the return of this incredibly popular musical...

Rocky Horror
definitely has us caught in a Time Warp because this is the 3rd time it has visited Manchester in 18 months, and its hard-core fans show no sign of slowing down their eagerness to be a part of this cultastic phenomenon.  The last time I saw Rocky Horror was August 2021, when The Opera House re-opened after COVID restrictions, and I have never experienced an atmosphere like it.  It was the perfect re-opening, full of freedom, abandonment, and the desire to just live life.  It’s possibly the best party atmosphere I’ve ever experienced in a theatre.  I will never forget that evening, and so I couldn’t help but feel a little hesitant that, despite the epic proportions of Rocky Horror, my lasting adrenaline fuelled memory of the show could only make any future performances pale in comparison.  But this is Rocky Horror, it doesn’t do second best – even to itself!  And whilst that hot August night in 2021 will always hold a special place in my theatre loving heart, tonight was ready to blast the winter blues away and set this cold Manchester night on fire!

So for those innocents out there yet to have their Rocky Horror cherry burst, here’s the story so far.  Brad and Janet, the seemingly quintessential all American couple, have had a little car trouble.  They seek refuge from the lashing rain in the nearest house as they simply try to use the phone to call for assistance.  Instead, they meet a whole host of eclectic residents who awaken their twee outlook on life, in every way possible.  As Brad and Janet experience the more pleasurable aspects of life, the master of the house Frank-N-Furter is building a little plaything by the name of Rocky.  But Rocky wants to play with Janet and Frank-N-Furter doesn’t like to share any toys.  Bang on cue, an earlier experimental plaything by the name of Eddie returns for revenge, but instead finds himself for the chop, because nobody gets the better of Frank-N-Furter.  Frank gets more and more demanding, petulant and insatiable, until trusted phantoms Riff Raff and Magenta grow weary of the games.  The phantomesque brother and sister take over and through a sea of leopard print hot pants, pink rubber gloves, science labs, lab coats, suspenders, tap shoes, sequins, glitter and sex, transport the entire house back to their home planet of Transexual Transylvania.  Got it?  Good! 

The plot may sound random, and that’s because it kind of is, but its messages are not.  Be who you want to be, love who you want to love, ‘Give yourself over to absolute pleasure’ and do it all to a soundtrack that ignites every fibre of your being into an irresistible frenzy of indulgence, where you will feel the feels like you’ve never felt them before!  If you’ve never seen Rocky Horror before, your eyes will be opened to a unique form of theatre, where the audience play just as much a part of the show as the hard-working cast, and for the rest of you Rocky loving pleasure seekers – welcome home.

This set design is slick, quick and satisfying (a bit like Frank-N-Furter!)  Designed by Hugh Durrant, it involves revolving panels that with a simple flip turn the mansions main living room into a science lab and back again.  A film reel wraps itself around the set above the casts heads, drawing your attention to the fantastically talented band, who keep the audience revved up all night.  The lights (Nick Richings) are mesmerising, flashing rainbow disco lights, lasers that beam directly into the audience and penetrate into your Rocky loving heart.  Director Christopher Luscombe takes Richard O’Brien’s script to new heights in this 50th celebratory tour, allowing the cast the freedom to breathe and work with the emitting heckles and “script additions” from the enthusiastic audience.  The cast take it all in their stride and as each of them took to the stage for the first time, they received a round of applause for just being a part of this fan favourite production.  Stephen Webb (Titanic, Wonderland, Jersey Boys) played Frank-N-Furter when I last saw the show in August 2021, and he has somehow upped his presence even further, which I didn’t think possible.  He is so at ease and relaxed with this role that all you have to do is enjoy his performance (I think that’s what Brad and Janet did too!)  He more than commands the stage, the audience and walks better in high heels than I do!  His voice is sublime, and I think he will be a Rocky fan favourite for years to come.  Haley Flaherty (The Mousetrap, Matilda, Love Never Dies) was also in the last production I saw as Janet and again just seems so at ease with the entire show.  She is sweet, innocent, raunchy, naive, and belts out her numbers with a voice so powerful, yet equally gentle when needed.  Amazing vocal skills.  Her Brad is performed by Richard Meek (Hairspray, Annie, The Producers) who is the perfect blustering partner.  He’s created Brad so that we don’t laugh at him, but instead we laugh with him, gaining his laughter from his gorgeous portrayal of this kind-hearted, innocent and nerdy young thing.  Reece Boudin (Matilda, La Cage Aux Follies) takes on the audience as the Narrator and has everyone belly laughing at his cool and collected come backs, where he even pokes fun at himself and has us falling in love with his cheeky charm.  Suzie McAdam (Local Hero, Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde) as Magenta also starts the whole show as the Usherette and belts out Science Fiction with a passion reciprocated by the audience.  She is strong and full of sass.  With well over 2000 performances, Kristian Lavercombe (Jersey Boys, Jesus Christ Superstar, Urinetown) who was tonight’s Riff Raff, has performed in Rocky Horror more than anyone else in its 50 year history and it shows because he is flawless and the second his head popped onto stage through a circular window, it was clear he was loved by this huge Rocky fan base.  His voice is crystal clear and the range is out of this world!  Ben Westhead as Rocky is an advert for body confidence, for he spends the entire show in nothing but a pair of underpants!  He never looks uncomfortable and bursts to life with an energy and a refreshing purity that suited the role wonderfully.  I have to say, this was one of my favourite Rocky interpretations ever.  Darcy Finden as Columbia and Joe Allen as Eddie and Dr. Scott complete the main cast like the missing pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, because this cast is a unit and seem so relaxed and in tune with each other that a certain, intangible vibe permeates the theatre.

As the entire audience stood up to dance to The Time Warp, a dance that even if it were their first Rocky experience, everybody already knew the moves to, I got to thinking what a unique element of the show this was.  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other show where the audience know the moves to a musical number before they have even entered the theatre and are then invited to join in!  I just love it!  The audience is as much a part of a Rocky Horror show as the cast themselves, and this is mainly down to one person – Sal Piro, who sadly passed away last month.  Sal was a Rocky Horror legend and started its fan club in 1977, eventually growing its popularity so much to become the voice of the Rocky Horror community.  He was in the original Rocky audience and is credited with the development of the audience participation and cult status we now know and love today.  I’m sure Sal would have loved tonight’s performance and was leading the audience yells in declaring Janet a slut and Brad an a-hole!!  Rocky is, and forever will be a hot patootie of a show!  It is a show that has no boundaries, makes no apologies and makes audiences return time and time again, because Rocky Horror is a “light in the darkness, of everybody’s life.”   



The Rocky Horror Show is on at the Opera House in Manchester until Saturday 25th February.



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