Watching theatre-goers gearing up for The Rocky Horror Show really is a spectacle in itself: as is traditional, all manner of sights adorn the steps of the Liverpool Empire to salute Richard O’Brien’s masterpiece.
Both musical and film have huge cult followings are are boast genuine icons of either medium, from the iconic image of Tim Curry as Frank-N-Furter to the instantly-recognisable Time Warp – song or dance, pick one – recently regurgitated for an episode of Glee, no less. The programme promised “rambunctious spirit, unabashed grotesquerie and a knowing irony” – we’re always game – and Empire pulsing with cross-dressing lasciviousness.
Men wearing suspenders, PVC corsets and smatterings of red-glitter lipstick stood beside women were looked every inch French-maid-meets-kindergarten-whore. It’s all a bit hanging outside Quiggins circa 1994, but with middle-age spreads. We felt rather bland and frumpy without a hint of feather boa or glitter.
The show opens with a candy-pink waitress, complete with awesome peroxide beehive, singing Science Fiction/Double Feature, and she has that perfect, kooky, cartoon-esque timbre to her voice; reminiscent of Audrey from Little Shop Of Horrors or Frenchie from Greece. It’s quite a stark opening to the show, sung against the backdrop of a stained, ripped curtain, especially compared to the extravagance of the scenes that follow, but it’s an effective start.
The show is a non-stop procession of glam rock’n'roll numbers, furnishing the rather loose, farcical tale of cross-dressing and quite mad scientist Doctor Frank-N-Furter (Oliver Thornton), his castle and its strange inhabitants. These include Riff Raff (Kristian Lavecombe), Columbia (Ceris Hine) and the titular character – brought to life Frankenstein-stylee – Rocky, tonight played by no other than X-Factor runner up Rhydian himself, wholly terrifying in fake tan and baby oil).
Thornton oozes charisma as he sings and purrs his way through Sweet Transvestite and other numbers. And what legs! He is every bit as convincing as Sir Tim Curry himself. However, the star of the show tonight was Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff, displaying an incredible vocal range and, at times, recalling a young Bowie. Philip Franks, stepping out of Dictionary Corner into the Narrator’s Fishnets, was excellent in the role, dealing with hecklers with consummate ease without breaking character.
Impressive performances were also given by one-time Emmerdale favourite Roxanne Pallett, who convincingly portrays the transformation of the girl-next-door demeanour of Janet into a sultry, sexy bombshell, resplendent in a red velvet corset and fishnet tights by the end of the show. Pallett also has some really beautiful and varied tones to her voice as she colours and shades through solos and duet repertoire with her on-stage love, Brad, played by Ben Forster.
As the programme proclaims: “Rocky is like a holiday from life. It gives people licence to go off the rails a bit.” It is certainly not for the faint-hearted, nor the more conservative theatre-goer, especially as the whole of the theatre was at one point on its feet doing that dance as The Time Warp was performed with joyous abandon on stage. But, for most, a frighteningly good time is guaranteed.
The Rocky Horror Show
Until Saturday 16 February
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