Wednesday, 28 July 2021

REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Show at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre

The Rocky Horror Show has returned for another UK Tour as it approaches in 50th birthday in 2023, starting in Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre. This extraordinary show which began at the Royal Court Theatre in June 1973 and became a movie that has defined cult status in 1975, has a dedicated and loyal following who have now become part of the show. Indeed, it is the audiences and their interaction with the cast that make this a unique experience and as many productions seek to add immersive elements to their production, Rocky Horror leads the way with the audiences’ reactions and shout out now built into the script. There are two very good reasons to return to see this production as many returning casts are led by a perfectly cast Philip Franks as the narrator and the very likeable Ore Oduba as Brad.

Philip Franks, now perhaps better known as a very good director is a brilliant narrator, a master of the comic pauses and reaction to the audience call-outs, he brings a freshness to the familiar script with his updated references to the last eighteen months. His delivery is perfectly judged and very well-timed and at every entrance, the audience prepares to respond. Oduba who has become a familiar and popular face since his Strictly Come Dancing win in 2016 gets a chance to show his comic talents too as the innocent and hapless hero Brad who stumbles into Frank N Furter’s castle.

Richard O’Brien music and script seems to stand the test of time with his original love of B Movies which inspired the story now updated for a more risqué and outrageous exploration of sexuality as Frank N Furter imposes himself on the hapless visitors. It is all done (almost) in the “best possible taste” with plenty of gusto and with the collective tongues of the cast planted firmly in their cheeks. The standout numbers have the audience singing and dancing along in a mass karaoke of “Time Warp”, “Sweet Transvestite”, “Dammit Janet” and my personal favourite “Science Fiction/ Double Feature” which perfectly opens the show and sets the tone for the production. Here the Usherette is sung by Suzie Mcadam (who also plays Magenta). Some of the other numbers merge together in the memory but it is brilliant opening 30 minutes and the closing reprises that carry the audience through the show and send them home happy. Haley Flaherty as Janet, Stephen Webb as Frank N Furter and Kristan Lavercombe as Riff Raff all return to the cast. Lavercombe has performed in over 1800 shows! They look so comfortable in their bizarre familiar characters but most of all they look like they are having as much fun as the audiences who heckle and bait them. Joe Allen doubles up as Eddie and Dr Scott and Lauren Ingram is Columbia to complete the principal roles.

This is a production that has been honed over many years and is a slick show. The five-piece band under Greg Arrowsmith rock out the tunes from above the action and the sound balance is excellent so we hear all the vocals over the driving drums and guitar. The set by Hugh Durrant is very good too with some delightful cartoonish settings on the way to the castle that work well, echoes of the B movies that inspired the show and then a good practical design for the castle interiors which allows smooth transitions between scenes and a variety of entrances and exits. Nicholas Richings’ Lighting design too is effective with some good use of tight spots, audience blinders and excellent “lift-off” at the end.

It is now a familiar show but still attracting new younger audiences while satisfying the loyal core. After 48 years “It’s astounding, time is fleeting, Madness takes its toll”, still fits the bill and sums up this enduring fun show. Here is looking forward to its 50th anniversary. 
Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row T | Price of Ticket: £45

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