Adam Bruce, United Kingdom Critic
Richard O’Brien’s ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ continues to be celebrated as one of the wackiest cult musicals of all time. Over forty years has passed since its initial cinema release, and the film still continues to be shown in limited release today. It’s a similar story with the stage version, which continues to draw in fans and audiences of all ages into theatres to experience the cult classic. So on a Tuesday evening at the Leeds Grand Theatre, I popped in to experience it for myself.
In short, ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ is a parody of classic horror movies with a twist; Brad (James Darch) and Janet (Joanne Clifton) are two young college graduates on their way to visit their old professor when their car breaks down. Naturally, they decide to visit the creepy old mansion on the hill and ask to use their phone. Upon their arrival, however, they encounter the charismatic Dr Frank N Furter (Duncan James) and get wrapped up in his madcap plans, making for an experience they’ll never forget.
Even by the end of the first act, it’s easy to see why ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ is so celebrated and loved by its fans. Director Christopher Luscombe, working with choreographer Nathan M Wright, brings to the stage an energetic romp that remains true to the original roots of O’Brien’s piece. The piece is presented in a no-nonsense fashion where the physical action is streamlined and the pace is carefully plotted to allow the narrative – and the constantly laughing audience – room to breathe as the proceedings speed along. In a piece that’s been as long-running as ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ it would be easy for its countless revivals to appear to run out of steam and ride on the coattails of its predecessors, but this production does the exact opposite. It feels fresh and exciting, and with such a clear and concise directorial vision giving shape to the production, it’s easy to see why it remains a relevant classic over forty years on. Throw in a belter of a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack with dynamic and fresh musical arrangements by Richard Hartley and you’ve got quite the recipe for success.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the committed and energetic performances from the entire ensemble. Led by James, who clearly revels in his role as Dr Frank N Furter, the whole company have the time of their lives as they bring O’Brien’s classic to life. Their infectious charisma soars out into the audience, and as their clear and powerful vocals fill the auditorium alongside their flawless executions of Wright’s characterful choreography, the feel-good factor swells to euphoric levels. The characterisations are brash yet full of clarity, and the performers marvellously embody the madcap spirit of O’Brien’s hilarious spoof to great effect. They work together harmoniously and build on the bond between the production and the audience – and since more than half of the audience were dressed as if they could appear in the show, it’s clear to see that the bond is still strong after all this time. The ensemble doesn’t take this bond for granted, however, and continues to strengthen it, which subsequently continues to cement the production’s status as an enduring classic.
Buttressing the excellent performances and forming a crucial component of Luscombe’s clear directorial vision is a smashing scenography. Sue Blane, who worked on the original show back at the Royal Court and on the film, returns to design costumes that effortlessly hark back to the show’s roots and its crazy characters. Hugh Durrant’s set design also takes on a contemporary feel, with a sweeping cinema reel snaking its way up to the top of the space where the musicians – all of whom excellently bring the pulsing soundtrack to life with dynamic musicality and flair – sit above the proceedings in a tidy design that gives the action plenty of room to unfold and develop. Nick Richings’ lighting design completes the scenography, with vibrant hues accompanying and enriching the action as the audience watches with delight.
‘The Rocky Horror Show’ will likely not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s full of innuendo, stuffed to the brim with rude bits, encapsulated within a crude of somewhat dark sense of humour. Yet, while modern comedy can sometimes miss the mark and cause unamusing offence instead of hilarity, ‘The Rocky Horror Show’, despite its coat of excess and vulgarity, is all done in good fun and never attempts to cause offence. If you don’t mind a bit of that aforementioned excess, vulgarity and innuendo, and appreciate a cracking soundtrack and brilliant performances, then ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ absolutely has to be on your list.
‘The Rocky Horror Show is at Leeds Grand Theatre until 24th August. For more information, tickets and a full cast & creative list, visit: https://www.rockyhorror.co.uk/