Theatre Review of The Rocky Horror Show – Storyhouse, Chester

By Richard O’Brien – 16th September 2019

If a musical has ever truly merited the word ‘unique’, surely it is ‘The Rocky Horror Show’, which has effectively never had a revival for the simple reason it’s never stopped touring ever since it first hit the London stage over forty years ago. With songs as familiar as anything ever written by Rogers and Hammerstein or Lloyd Webber and Rice, ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ is the cheeky, punk alternative to the big-budget, big-stage show, gathering new fans year on year and showing no sign of slowing down.

When most of the audience already knows the script, and with so many familiar characters and moments, the problem in presenting this show is to meet everyone’s expectations whilst at the same time somehow appearing to be original. This production managed to achieve just that, without reinventing the wheel. With superb staging and clear attention to detail, this was a truly presentation with a number of aspects deserving special mention.

First of all the clarity of sound was exceptional with more balance than usual in favour of vocals but every instrument crystal clear, despite reassuringly loud volume. Every nuance of the music made familiar in the 1975 film version was there, giving essentially simple songs a very sophisticated feel.

Secondly, the sets were a feast for the eyes, with several items thoughtfully included to enhance the right backdrop, from a mounted Dodo’s head in the hall to a huge brain in the lab. A nice touch was a huge translucent roll of film across the top of the set, which not only provided a screen for the band as well as providing an extra piece of staging for the cast but also served as a constant reminder that is was old sci-fi B-movies which provided much of the inspiration for the Rocky Horror Show, several of which are mentioned by name in the opening song, sung by a cinema usherette.

Thirdly, the show was excellently cast. Philip Franks was outstanding as the narrator showing remarkable ad-lib versatility in exchanges with the audience, James Darch and Joanne Clifton were perfect as the hapless Brad and Janet, Laura Harrison smouldered a sexy Magenta and Kristian Lavercombe was a very memorable Riff Raff. Stephen Webb gave a slightly softer approach than is usual for Frank N Furter but it certainly worked, amply commanding the stage. Quite remarkable was Callum Evans as Rocky who more than just looked the part, deftly incorporating remarkable displays of acrobatics, from back-flips to cart wheels, coupled with a real feeling for comedy.

The real originality in this production came in various subtle touches ton telling the familiar story, in addition to the superb sets fully creating the looks of both a laboratory from a 1950s sci-fi B movie and a Hammer Horror style mansion. The bed scene in which Frank in turn visits Janet and Brad received a refreshing new twist whilst the cannibalism scene involving Eddie, which many have thought was a mistake move in the original script, was replaced with a more palatable means of progressing this part of the plot. There was also an interesting take on Columbia, with some astonishing histrionics from Miracle Chance (which received a special round applause!).

This was a truly refreshing and enjoyable presentation of a very well-known show, certainly giving new things for fans who know ‘Rocky Horror’ inside out as well as presenting a more or less perfect rendition for anyone who had never seen the show before; very highly recommended as an exciting, sexy and hilarious night out.

Reviewed by John Waterhouse