Behind me a slightly overweight man in basque, suspenders and very little else is shuffling up the row to his seat to cheers from the back stalls. His girlfriend is close behind in a French maid’s outfit. In front of me an octogenarian on a walking frame is sporting bejazzled Elton-style glasses and a feather boa. A faux-usherette with illuminated ice creams is taking selfies with the entire front row.
With nearly a thousand performances of the show under his belt, it’s not difficult to understand why Kristian Lavercombe’s Riff Raff is so confidently delivered.
Normal reviewing protocol doesn’t include talking about the audience, but for a show like Rocky Horror, it’s as much about the audience as what’s happening beyond the proscenium arch. What is clear from the diversity of the packed house tonight, Richard O’Brien’s subversive sci-fi spoof musical has slipped into social normality across all age groups and sexual persuasions.
When I first heard Frank-N-Furter ask Janet whether she had any tattoos some thirty-odd years ago, the funny was in the outrageousness of the suggestion. Young ladies simply didn’t get inked back then. Oh, how times have changed.
For the benefit of Rocky Horror virgins (can there be any left?), the story is a tribute to 40s B-movies of science fiction and horror genres. A newly-engaged couple stumble upon the home of a transsexual alien who is creating the perfect muscle-bound sex slave, but his plan is thwarted by his mutinous servants. Stitched together with production number after production number, the show is a juggernaut of sexual innuendo, high camp and impromptu reaction to the audience shout-outs.
This production is self-aware – the chances of dipping into chaos are ever-present, but Narrator Steve Punt plays a skillful ringmaster, corralling the fourth wall to provide perfect reaction to the ad-libs whilst still keeping the story on track. Indeed, there are some clever modifications to the direction and orchestration to control audience participation. Where a previous production (or even the film) left a gap ripe for an amusing heckle, here they’ve tightened up dialogue or changed the beat in order to manage the crowd without us ever feeling manipulated. We’re still encouraged to join in – and it provides a key part of the fun of the evening – but we’re kept in check just enough to avoid anarchy breaking out in the theatre.
The stagecraft is universally excellent, even with the billed Magenta, Kay Murphy, replaced with the very-bendy understudy Lauren Ingram. With nearly a thousand performances of the show under his belt, it’s not difficult to understand why Kristian Lavercombe’s Riff Raff is so confidently delivered. His appearance atop Frank-N-Furter’s castle at the top of Act I is greeted with rapturous applause and his vocals carry him all the way to the final step-to-the-right at the curtain. Ben Freeman as Brad and Diana Vickers as Janet are a magnetic coupling; Freeman really getting his moment to shine during his solo Once In A While (cut from the movie) and Vickers’ acting prowess putting to bed any scoffs that this is just stunt casting of an X-Factor star. But if the night can belong to anyone in this largely ensemble cast, it has to be Liam Tamne as Frank-N-Furter. In a room full of hardcore fans, Tamne delivers in spades. The energy, the voice and the comic timing creating a perfect storm that crackles around the auditorium.
Despite it’s age (Rocky Horror first strutted onto the Royal Court’s stage in 1973), this tour does a fine job of contemporisation. References to Donald Trump, Harry Potter riffs and a general spring clean of the score makes everything feel fresh without risking upsetting the purists. Nick Richings’ bold lighting design of lurid neons give it a stadium feel and Hugh Durrant’s set uses acres of shimmer curtain and clever rotating elements that maximise the effect whilst still fitting in the truck to the next tour location.
Undeniably a treat for Rocky Horror fans, this production knows its audience as much as the audience knows the show. It keeps a grip on proceedings to avoid mayhem, but never denies us giving ourselves over to absolute pleasure. Let’s do the Time Warp again.