Melissa Blease reviews The Rocky Horror Show, starring Ben Adams and Joanne Clifton, on at Theatre Royal Bath until 11 May
The guy wearing glitter-dipped platform boots has fallen off his heels, ripped his fishnets to shreds and lost his wig in a puddle. The woman accompanying him is too busy searching for her phone in the pocket of the apron of her French maid outfit to assist. A third friend (fright wig; dusty tailcoat; ‘blood’-splattered leggings) is aimlessly screeching for help. “Didn’t you pass a castle back down the road a few miles? Maybe they have a telephone you can use…” shouts a passer-by (silver catsuit; gold high heels) – cue riotous laughter, a smattering of applause and pats on the back all round, not least of all from platform boot man, who has now recovered his (in)dignity and is posing for a selfie with a chap wearing nothing more than tiny leopard-print speedos and a pair of DMs.
The Rocky Horror Show is back in town – and the devotees (‘Warpers’, ‘Weirdoes’, ‘Frank’s Freaks’ or ‘Sluts’, depending on which of the of the show’s many fan clubs they pledge their allegiance to) are putting on as much of a floor show outside the theatre as the cast do during the onstage finale.
Writer Richard O’Brien’s tongue-in-cheek homage to 1950s schlock-horror science fiction B-movies is as fresh, feisty and downright fabulous as it was when it premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre back in 1973. For virgins who have come late to the party, the plot revolves around geeky Brad and his demure fiancée Janet who set off to visit their former high school science teacher Dr Scott… only to find themselves with a flat tyre late on a stormy night somewhere in the countryside.
To cut a long, unlikely story short, Brad and Janet swiftly become key characters in the arcane empire ruled by mad, bad, misunderstood ‘sweet transvestite’ Frank-N-Furter, abetted by his dysfunctional ‘family’: sinister servant Riff Raff; licentious maid Magenta; tap-dancing good-time girl Columbia; Frank’s brand new creation Rocky (yes, Frank’s made a man, with blond hair and a tan, etc); Frank and Columbia’s former lover and play-thing Eddie and, eventually, Dr Scott – who also happens to be Eddie’s uncle… oh, and a government investigator of UFO business.
Frank concludes that the flat tyre/stormy night set-up could only be part of a vast conspiracy to out him as a former resident of Transexual Transylvania (an alien planet rather than a particularly liberated region of Eastern Europe) and total, utter chaos ensues, resulting in an absurd, non-stop erotic cabaret of song and dance laden with lashings of surreal savoir-faire.
As Janet, Strictly Come Dancing superstar Joanne Clifton is an absolute joy to behold as she morphs from coquettish naïve to sanguine jezebel, exuding effervescence every step of the way. Kristian Lavercombe’s creepily charismatic Riff Raff is at once repulsive but oddly compelling, and Callum Evans as Rocky is hunky perfection personified, the role boosted with extra added flourish courtesy of Evans’ professional gymnast background.
A four-strong troupe of incessantly twerking, cavorting ‘phantoms’ add an extra layer of dynamism and gothic grandeur, and Steve Punt as the Narrator does a commendable job as tour guide, batting away interjections from hecklers with quick-fire ripostes of his own. As for the antihero himself, Stephen Webb is a solid, impressively majestic Frank-N-Furter: by turn deliciously, devilishly decadent or melodramatically mawkish as the plot gathers pace; cocky, confident and camp to the max throughout.
Puerile, preposterous, and profligate; filthy, fickle, funny: time has most definitely not warped this unashamedly lusty, lascivious experience. I’m all for doing a jump to the left and then taking a step to the right again, and again, and again, for as long as my glitter-dipped platform boots will hold me steady.
Main image: Ben Adams as Brad and Joanne Clifton as Janet in The Rocky Horror Show. Credit: David Freeman