It's clear exactly why 'The Rocky Horror Show' is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and the current UK tour shows that its popularity won't be slowing down anytime soon.
As part of its 2023 UK tour, the legendary Rocky Horror Show came to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre tonight for a showstopping night of macabre humour and entertainment.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the legendary Richard O’Brien-created show follows a young couple, Brad (Richard Meek) and Janet (Haley Flaherty), who find themselves stranded on a dark and stormy night and seeking refuge in the home of Dr. Frank N. Furter (Stephen Webb), a mad scientist who is in the process of creating a confident, muscley hunk, Rocky.
As someone who has not seen The Rocky Horror Show in any form before, it was a little surprising to hear the sheer amount of audience participation that features in the production. At times it felt like almost every line spoken by the cast received a witty callback from a variety of good-humoured audience members, creating an atmosphere of raucous energy that is both infectious and unforgettable. While at times this bordered on a little annoying at some of the more moving moments, it largely provided a welcome departure from usual musical productions. From the offset, it made it clear that the show would be more akin to a concert or stand-up comedy performance, and it provided just that.
There is certainly nothing subtle about this show. A standout feature of the set design is its use of large, intricate props and set pieces. From Frank N. Furter’s elaborate laboratory to the towering castle that dominates the stage, the sets are grand and immersive, giving the audience a sense of being transported to a different time and place. This, combined with such iconic songs as Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite allow for a real feel-good energy to be blatantly clear.
However, this would matter little if the performances did not match the songs’ level of fun and theatrics, and they certainly do. While the American accents, like often for British theatre, are questionable, Stephen Webb is an absolute joy to watch as Dr. Frank N. Furter as he expertly commands the stage with his camp presence, yet never once overshadows his fellow cast members. Philip Franks as the Narrator also provides a standout performance of the show, providing a sense of authority that continues as he appears at random moments throughout the show. He acts as a kind of middle-ground between the audience and the performance, with his seemingly natural interactions providing some of the show’s funniest. Kristian Lavercombe also wows as Furter’s helpless assistant Riff Raff, clearly channeling some of the madcap energy that O’Brien first debuted the character with.
The show did falter a little in its focus on the main story, which felt a little lost or unclear in favour of displaying visual spectacles, particularly with a confusing ending that occurs rather abruptly. However, it’s clear to see why The Rocky Horror Show has been able to entertain audiences for such a long time. It’s a show that ultimately celebrates individuality and facing fear through the power of self-expression, all through some of the best musical numbers of all time. So, strut on down to the Mayflower Theatre while you can and prepare to leave like so many others as a lifelong fan!
The Rocky Horror Show is at the Mayflower Theatre until March 25th, tickets can be purchased here.