Theatre Review: The Rocky Horror Show at Sunderland Empire
Dust off your fishnets, polish your pleather (check the label first), and brave your highest heels: The Rocky Horror Show is back in town
Heading into Sunderland Empire, I felt almost ashamed of never having seen the show up until this point. My concern was only increased when, with a quick glance at the programme, I saw words that struck fear into my heart: ‘audience participation’.
But The Rocky Horror Show is no place for shame. This riotous science-fiction, rock’n roll comedy musical is nothing if not a an ode to outcasts and an unabashed celebration of sexual liberation. Besides, as I quickly discovered, audience participation is very much self-selective, and after spending the show being immensely entertained by the interjections being thrown out across the audience (my personal favourite being “a womb with a view”), the whole theatre is up and contributing a ‘pelvic thrust’ for the final time-warp.
The enthusiasm of the audience was reciprocated and sustained by incredibly energetic performances from the entire cast (special mention to Ben Westhead who played Rocky on this front: his ability to become airborne during a push-up is definitively sci-fi to my mind).
Stephen Webb has a dazzlingly sultry charisma in the iconic role of Frank N Furter, and his rendition of ‘Sweet Transvestite’ is a triumph. Meanwhile, Haley Flaherty’s Janet and Richard Meek’s Brad are a perfectly calibrated pastiche of the all-American couple… until they aren’t (see the lyrics to Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me).
Joe McFadden does an stellar job as the show’s narrator, and effortlessly fields a large portion of the audience’s interjections (which I presume must vary every evening) with an entirely unflustered charm. Having said this, it’s hard not to feel short-changed when he reveals himself (all too briefly) to have a lovely singing voice too… the pitfalls of being too talented.
After more than 2,000 performances of the show, you might expect that Kristian Lavercombe’s energy could have waned a bit. You would be mistaken; his incredibly physical embodiment of Rocky’s creepy servant Riff Raff (all curling fingers and unsettling stares), makes me hope that he’ll continue to stick it out for many more lucky audiences to come.
As you might suspect, this is probably a show best kept for an adult-only night out. It has been over 50 years since The Rocky Horror Show debuted at the Royal Court in 1973 and at times newer audiences are likely to find it both less shocking and, alternately, darker than originally intended. Regardless of how much attitudes have changed since 1973, The Rocky Horror Show is as fantastically good fun as ever. Committed fans and newbies (or in the world of Rocky Horror: ‘virgins’) alike exit the theatre giddy from an evening of lasers, lingerie and LOTS of laughs.