Review: Rocky Horror Show at Liverpool Empire ****1/2
Little can Richard O’Brien have imagined when his Rocky Horror Show was premiered in the 62-seat fringe theatre upstairs at London’s Royal Court that it would become a much-loved theatrical phenomenon.
But this outrageous yet endearing, panto-esque paean to the B-movies of O’Brien’s (mis-spent) youth in sleepy 50s New Zealand has now been in continuous production for almost half-a-century and remains deliciously - and dangerously – entertaining stuff.
The current UK tour, steered by veteran Rocky Horror director Christopher Luscombe, features a new set from Hugh Durrant – a curl of celluloid snaking over the gothic schlocky-horror proceedings, camp costumes by original designer Sue Blane, and an impressively strong cast who throw themselves in to proceedings with playful abandon.
They’re led by boyband-turned-West End performer Duncan James who cuts an imposing figure as the strutting, statuesque and libidinous transvestite scientist Frank N Furter who (in the words of Keats) yearns for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts.
Duncan James as Frank with Joanne Clifton (Janet) and Ben Adams (Brad). Photos: Richard Davenport
He rip-roars through his Sweet Transvestite opener, but also brings a real wistfulness to Frank’s final number I’m Going Home.
Ben Adams and Joanne Clifton are brilliantly peppy as the square lovebirds who unwittingly stumble on a strange old castle during a rainstorm and are soon swept away on a wave of animal emotions.
And champion gymnast Callum Evans brings an impressive physicality to Frank’s laboratory creation Rocky.
It’s slick stuff, with crisply-executed choreography and big musical numbers – not least the crowd-pleasing, high-octane Time Warp, but at the same time still retains a feel of O’Brien’s low-fi, affectionate original.
The Time Warp
That is also in part due to the communal nature of proceedings exemplified by the traditional audience participation, the Monday night Empire crowd playing a strong heckling game that occasionally managed to sneak through the defences of a cast who hear the same raucous responses each evening.
The energy dips a little through a rather static couple of scenes in the middle of the second half, but the Cabaret-eque Rose Tint My World (Floor Show) reignites the action ahead of a dynamic finale.
Time may be fleeting – but Rocky Horror remains a timeless and joyful theatrical experience.