If ever a show epitomised how happy people are to be back in theatres, it’s this one. You can’t move for corsets, sequins and high heels. And that’s just the men.
For those unfamiliar with the nature of the show, perhaps having no more than a vague recollection of the 1975 film, it’s like being taken on a joyride on a high-powered motorbike and has an atmosphere more akin to a rock gig than a theatre show.
The cheering and enthusiastic audience participation is in full throttle from the moment the strains of ‘Science Fiction Double Feature’ start and the curtain twitches open.
It’s a fantastic atmosphere for our cast to bounce off, which they do with gusto. Philip Franks, in a role a billion miles away from his stuffy Darling Bud of May character, is outstanding as the Narrator, guiding us through the tale of engaged couple Brad and Janet who find themselves at the doors of a strange castle when their van breaks down. Franks roguishly batting away the audience’s most cheeky heckles with comebacks that would make a Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestant blush.
Former sports journo turned musicals star Ore Oduba as Brad and Hayley Flaherty as Janet are excellent in their respective roles as our fish-out-of-water duo. They do very well to keep straight faces through the more suggestive audience additions to their dialogue.
We could have been denied the whole show were it not for a change of policy on self-isolating so instead, with the sad news that our usual, record-breaking Riff-Raff, Kristian Lavercombe, has been hit with Covid (and we wish him a speedy recovery), it falls to Swing Danny Knott to step into the role of the creepy, hunchbacked manservant, which he does superbly, luring our innocent pair into his master’s web of mystery, sex and Frankenstein-style science experiments.
As he kicks off the show’s biggest, most crowd-pleasing number, Time Warp, an usherette tentatively moves forward to discourage the audience members rising to their feet, only to think better of it and let the inevitable ‘jumps to the left’ and ‘steps to the right’ loose.
Lauren Ingram as Columbia, Ben Westhead as Rocky, Suzie McAdam as Magenta and Joe Allen as Eddie/Dr Scott make up a strong core cast (Allen’s ‘Hot Patootie’ is a particular stand-out moment), making the most of Nathan M Wright’s choreography.
Of course, the biggest cheer of the night is reserved for the entrance of Stephen Webb’s Frank-N-Furter, an anti-hero role he plays with great relish and aplomb as he charms and seduces Janet and Brad. He brings a wonderful physicality and lustiness to his musical numbers.
His mid-west American meets East European accent does occasionally jar and, through no fault of his own, he does suffer from the same issue that many who’ve taken on the role have – that they don’t quite have the sheer magnetism that has always made Tim Curry an almost impossible act to follow, where he truly convinced his audience that he would bonk anything that moved. But tonight’s crowd still lap up every leer and hip thrust with noisy enthusiasm.
There is one significant let-down to tonight’s proceedings and that is the appalling balance in sound; on multiple occasions whoever is singing on stage is almost drowned out to the point of being incomprehensible by the otherwise excellent band. It’s a real black spot on an otherwise fantastically joyous show.
And overall, our theatregoers are in a forgiving mood, leaping back to their feet for the curtain-call reprise of Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite. Each song is greeted with the same roar of approval as a rock band playing their greatest hits. You might not be sure whether you’re watching burlesque or the world’s most NSFW panto but it’s impossible not to get swept up by it all.
The Rocky Horror Show continues until Sunday 29th August at the Manchester Opera House https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-rocky-horror-show/opera-house-manchester/
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 24th August 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★