Rocky Horror Show – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Birmingham on a cold January Monday night evening is largely eschewed by those seeking a night out. As we approached the theatre the streets were quiet, with many pubs and bars closed – then we approached the theatre foyer. What a transformation! A sold out audience teemed around the bars in a multitude of outlandish costumes and fashions, swapping notes on previous tours and eagerly anticipating what was to come. This was the place to be tonight.
I saw the Rocky Horror Show for the first time on the 40th anniversary tour, and was bowled over. My inevitable concern this time around was whether anything could match it.
The durability of the narrative, songs, and production is a given. Nothing withstands over forty years of exposure without being fundamentally strong. But keeping it fresh is always the challenge. Yet it is a challenge that the producers well understand. Recast, and with a new production team, a young, fresh crop of performers has been chosen, whose appeal is designed to appeal to a new generation of fans. So Diane Vickers ( X Factor), Liam Tamne (The Voice), Ben Freeman (Emmerdale) and Paul Cattermole (S Club 7) don the basques , stockings ,heels and other legendary Rocky paraphernalia to reinvent the show. For this evening’s performance Paul Cattermole was replaced by Zac Morris who ably played the roles of Eddie/ Dr Scott
The venerable history of Richard O’Briens’ show, beloved by generations, is respected, and expanded upon. Hugh Durrant’s set is awash with a nod and a wink to cinematic homages to all the B-movie sci-fi films which the show is inspired by. A celluloid strip straddles the stage above which a live band provides the music. Director Chris Luscombe is also fully grounded in the show’s basic appeal- kitsch, fantasy, innuendo and fun, and has cast well.
Dominic Anderson is perfect physically as Rocky, the ideal perfect human specimen. Fit, masculine, with Johnny Weissmuller style Tarzan leopard print briefs , as though lifted from a 1950’s edition of H&E. Diane Vickers and Ben Freeman ooze innocence and sexual discovery as Janet and Brad. Both sing well together and individually, but it is Vickers who stamps her authority on the role.
Kay Murphy as usherette, then Magenta, steals the show vocally for me on the best song, the opener and closer, “Science Fiction, Double Feature”. Chock- a- block full of references to films and scenes which are borrowed from in the show, it serves as overture and coda, sung in a slightly lower key second time around. Every phrase, and every note was savoured by both performer and audience. Her voice, tall frame, and elastic long legs always caught the eye.
Liam Tamne is a revelation as Frank n Furter. Of course he can sing, but can he act and handle the ritual, largely rehearsed,heckling from the audience? Yes, and with some style too, although his portrayal was stronger on the vocals than on the lewdness. It is narrator Steve Punt though who has to handle the majority of the audience interventions. As a fulltime comedian he thrives on it, and he dishes out more than he takes.
The much loved part of Riff Raff falls to Rocky Horror veteran Kristian Lavercombe, who has over a thousand shows behind him and provides much of the oil to a well -greased show. Sophie Linder Lee is a positively smouldering Columbia.
The most famous number, “The Time Warp”, is riotous, aisle dancing, rollicking audience participation, and is performed twice to make sure no-one misses out on the fun. What struck me was that even on a Monday night, cast and audience gave their all in an energetic, raucous and enjoyable performance. Richard O’Briens Rocky Horror Show plays till 30/1/16, continues on tour, then returns again in October to the New Alexandra Theatre by overwhelming popular demand.
This review first appeared in Behind the Arras, abridged, where a comprehensive collection of reviews from the best of Midlands Theatre, from a range of reviewers, is available.