25 May 2022
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW (Richmond Theatre) Review

Whilst I was 99% sure this was going to be an audience participation performance, we did check and told by the ushers that indeed it was.  There were perhaps 30 people in the stalls in assorted states of dressed up (including an 80+ gentleman in a black bikini and a corset and another 80+ gentleman in a bowtie tuxedo).  And yet, by and large, my companion and I were the only people screaming lines at the actors.  Worse, we kept getting shushed from all around us (mostly by the people who were dressed up!), and the two women sat two rows up kept turning around and telling us to shut up.  Hmmm…  Maybe these tickets should be sold with an audience participation warning, same way trigger warnings for productions are published…

What threw me off was the pacing.  I expected the usual gaps in the usual places, so that we could scream the usual lines.  But most of the gaps weren’t there!  It’s like all the dialogue was being rushed with barely room to take a breath in order to avoid any pauses and, consequently, any callbacks from the audience.  It didn’t feel like the cast was leaning into audience participation at all, which is a shame. It was a 2-hour show, and, honestly, I would’ve preferred it being 2:15 and paced to allow more interjections from the audience.

The only exception to this hurried speech really was the Narrator, who was played not by Philip Franks tonight, but by his understudy, Reece Budin, who did a fantastic job and actually looked like he was having fun to-ing and fro-ing with the audience.  A lot of his jokes were clearly scripted, but he did manage a couple of good on-the-spot zingers (most notably, “- But what was over?  – Your career!  – Over?  It’s not even begun!  You don’t even know who I am!!”).  At some point he said something that was so funny, it actually broke Brad who couldn’t keep from giggling.

To make the matters worse, the [live] music was unbelievably loud.  Not only was it completely drowning out any chance of the audience being audible in screaming callback lines over songs, it was often drowning out the actual singing…  Although pretty much everyone in the cast could belt out the big notes, the not-so-big ones weren’t always there, and no one in the cast appeared to be a particularly strong singer.

Stephen Webb as Frank didn’t quite do it for me.  He was good and solid and on-point and all that, but he was missing that Tim Curry sass and charm.  Suzie McAdam and Kristian Lavercombe’s Magenta and Riff had weird appearing and disappearing accents (her more than him).  My companion thought it may have been intentional, but I thought it was just inconsistent.  Ben Westhead was adorable as Rocky, but, in “Touch-a Touch Me”, he wasn’t as much groping Janet as handling her gingerly as if she had a contagious skin disease.  Lauren Ingram and Joe Allen were both unremarkable as Columbia and Eddie.  Haley Flaherty was probably the best of the bunch as Janet, and Ore Oduba’s Brad was so awkward and wooden, it felt in places like he’d never been on stage before.  Christopher Luscombe’s direction makes the most of the space and the set, but I thought that Columbia’s filler before the floor show was downright stupid.  It was pretty clear that the cast needed the time to change, so something had to be created to get the extra time.  Here, Columbia got dosed with a vapour gun and then sat on stage giggling and tripping for a better part of 5 minutes whilst Frank, Magenta, and Riff just sat there looking at her.  Didn’t work for me at all…

What all of this adds up to is a bit of nostalgia.  If you love Rocky Horror, it’s rare to see it live these days (and even more rare to see the film with a shadow cast).  It almost doesn’t matter how good or bad it is:  you just go and have a good time.  This felt like a downgrade from the West End production I saw with the same companion in 2015 (also directed by Luscombe, with Lavercombe and Flaherty carrying over from that one into this one), for which the review is suspiciously missing from this blog, so I’ll have to dig it up later.  That said, we still had a great time.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £5 if you’re a hardcore Rocky Horror fan, else probably £0.

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