The iconic aesthetic of The Rocky Horror Show reaches far beyond the parameters of the Bristol Hippodrome stage. Walking in on the tour’s opening night in Bristol, the lines between actor and audience blurred and warped - testament to the work of the show’s cult following since its premier in 1973.
Never has the phrase ‘preaching to the choir’ been more appropriate - Rocky Horror demands a commitment and loyalty from its spectators, which it certainly gets. Needless to say, this choir would have stood up and sung for any calibre of Rocky Horror, so long as Frank wore his fishnets and Columbia her tap shoes. What a relief, then, that this production is fully deserving of its standing ovation.
As expected from Bristol Hippodrome programming, the production value of Christopher Luscombe’s take on the classic musical is consistently and reliably high. This new world tour of Rocky Horror captures the essence of the original in style and energy – especially in Nathan N. Wright’s bold, slick choreography – but amps up the set, lights, costume and world far beyond the low-budget cult charm of the original show and movie. Each musical number propels the show with infectious enthusiasm and momentum (the audience instantly rose to their feet the minute the ‘Time Warp’ began), and revised arrangements of several well-known songs provide another layer of freshness (though ‘Hot Patootie’ s chorus personally ruffles some of my feathers). Dom Joly’s turn as The Narrator engages directly with the show’s long since accepted audience interactions, bouncing them back at us with the ease of a practised performer (though this is likely due to him appearing to have them written in his prompt book). This love for and interaction with their audience is evident throughout the cast. Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff (he has racked up over 1400 performances in the show) must be commended for his impeccable timing in this area, as well as his killer voice. Duncan James’ ‘I’m Going Home’ filled every inch of the theatre with Frank’s tragic farewell, and I challenge anyone to not be moved by his performance – Rocky old-timer or otherwise.
However, moments of the albeit fantastic, ramped-up production fall slightly short. The excessive use of lights occasionally pulls attention away from the focus of scenes, and notably, in the final number, the excessive use of dry ice makes seeing Janet and Brad’s touching reunion nigh-on impossible. The show feels over-choreographed in parts, with Callum Evans’ spectacular gymnastics capabilities being prioritised over the intent of character and song; for all of ‘Touch a Touch Me’ s spinning and kicking I don’t get the impression of Janet’s desire to be touched that much at all.
But what can one expect of a cult classic breaking into the commercial mainstream? Is it inevitable that the higher budget and elaborate staging will always come at the expense of some of the ‘outsider’ attitude that has brought the show its following?
These are only a few of the questions raised by the production on this subject, but one can be answered for sure. The Rocky Horror Show’s charm is not limited to its nature as cult or outside of the mainstream, as this production exuded just that infectious joy that propelled it to its heights of popularity.
Eden Peppercorn and Emma Rogerson