The Rocky Horror Show – Edinburgh Playhouse

On their way to announce their engagement to their old science teacher – no wait, this is the part of the plot that makes sense – Brad (Richard Meek) and Janet (Haley Flaherty) are forced to take refuge in a castle when their car breaks down. Inside, they find Doctor Frank’n’Furter (Stephen Webb), and their acolytes Riff Raff (Kristian Lavercombe), Columbia (Darcy Finden), Magenta (Suzie McAdam) and phantoms (Reese Budin, Fionan O’Carroll, Jessica Sole, Sefania Du Toit, Tyla Dee Nurden and Nathan Shaw), transvestites from the planet Transylvania – told you it was getting less run-of-the-mill – experimenting on human matter Eddie (Joe Allen) and Rocky (Ben Westhead) with sonic tranducers, rubber gloves, sex, and a floor-show. (And we’re back to the every day stuff. Or is that just me?)

Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show must have been a somewhat puzzling experience for many early viewers, inspired as it was by the unintentional humour of self-serious shlocky horror B movies, Steve Reeves muscle films, and 1950s rock’n’roll. And if that seems an unlikely combination, don’t worry: the script weaves these strands together with the care and focus of a madman making spaghetti, to music that’s about as character and plot-driven as a YouTube mix on shuffle (and that includes adverts).

However despite this (or maybe thanks to it) the 1975 film adaptation starring Tim Curry subsequently become a hit as a midnight movie, when audience members would frequently return to the cinemas dressed as the various characters and talk back to the screen. It’s now the longest-running theatrical release in film history, being still in limited release 47 years after its premiere. And unsurprisingly, the film’s influence has bled backwards into the source material, including by swapping “Sweet Transvestite” and “Time Warp”, replacing the “Charles Atlas Song” with “I Can Make You a Man” and, of course, the stage version now also being noted for its built-in audience participation (not to mention audience members in costume).

Despite a somewhat more muted reception on the night I attended, possibly a casualty of the several years we’ve all spent in doors (even the audience’s costumes seemed less outgoing), this tradition is still going strong to this day, allowing in particular Philip Franks’s Narrator a lot of fun with the audiences, not just with the standard call-and-responses but also some off-the-cuff seeming topical references, and even some brief parodies of other shows appearing in the same theatre this year.

The cast’s experience with the show (many of them are Rocky veterans) is clear and confident, with Stephen Webb and Kristian Lavercombe being clear audience favourites, no mean feat considering how ingrained Tim Curry and Richard O’Brien’s takes are, while Haley Flaherty and Richard Meek also shine in the less flashy roles of Brad and Janet. The rest of the ensemble and band (visible in outline above the stage) are also great, bringing the right touch of weird camp and rock’n’roll to the proceedings.

Unlike classic plays, many of which are out of copyright, musicals often have very little leeway for variation and reinvention and Rocky Horror, with its call-and-response audience reaction and half-a-century-old cult fanbase, might be even more beholden to this than most: it’s not like costume designer Sue Blane can reinvent the protagonists’ looks into something totally different, or like choreographer Nathan Wright can let loose on the Time Warp routine without rewriting lyrics and confusing fans.

However, director Christopher Luscombe keeps it fresh, hitting all the necessary beats but never with a sense of obligation, while the pantomimy sets by Hugh Durrant (much more colourful than those of the film, which reused many props from actual Hammer Horror films it found locally); musical arrangements by Richard Hartley, Simon Beck, Greg Arrowsmith and Charlie Ingles; and hazy lighting by Nick Richings keep everything light and fresh. It’s also worth highlighting the sound design by Gareth Owen, which keeps everything distinct and clear in a way which I wish I could say was more common.

The Rocky Horror Show, in all its variants, continues to enrapture fans, make converts and befuddle others half a century later, and if you are in either of the first two categories, actually or potentially, then this is must-see. It is guaranteed to give you some terrible thrills.

The Rocky Horror Show is running at the Edinburgh Playhouse until the 18th March. Tickets can be found at: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-rocky-horror-show/edinburgh-playhouse/calendar/2023-03-14

Reviewer: Oliver Giggins

Reviewed: 13th March 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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