Theatre Review: THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW – Opera House, Manchester

The cast of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW UK Tour. Photo Credit: David Freeman

Celebrating 50 years of absurdity, acceptance, authenticity, and amusement, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW is as much of a crowd-pleaser now as ever.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Celebrating its fiftieth year onstage, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW has rocked and rolled back into Manchester’s Opera House as part of its 2022-2023 world tour. Ever the fan-favourite, Richard O’Brien’s timeless, time-warping, mind-bending musical is as much of a crowd-pleaser now as ever.

For those that are unfamiliar with the musical, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW follows newly engaged couple, Brad and Janet, on their tumultuous journey to reunite with their old schoolteacher, Dr Scott. When their car breaks down mid-journey, Brad and Janet are forced to seek help at a nearby castle – a decision that will change their lives forever. Finding themselves drawn into the strange and sensual world of mad scientist Frank N Furter, Brad and Janet will likely never be the same again.

This time, stepping into Frank N Furter’s platform heels is the formidable Stephen Webb, who brings us a more macho character with a southern charm and belting vocals. The way in which Webb plays with masculine and feminine throughout is masterful and exactly what we have come to expect from our beloved Translyvanian cross-dresser. He commands the stage from the second that he enters it, equally imposing and compelling in his performance.

Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff in THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Webb truly gives himself to the role entirely, with his performances of I’M GOING HOME and ROSE TINT MY WORLD being particularly exceptional. When playing an iconic character such as Frank N Furter, it is important to give as much to the role as you take, and Webb understands this perfectly. Where needed, he draws from Tim Curry’s infamous character – the comical facial expressions, the powerful kick of the heel for emphasis – just enough so that the audience still sees glimpses of the beloved Frank that graced our screens all those years ago. But then he takes this one step further by adding his own mannerisms; and lending his resonant voice with all of its own inflections and range to Richard O’Brien’s classics. This is the making of a true star – knowing when and how to make a role your own.

Reece Budin stepped in as the understudy Narrator and was outstanding with his quick wit, bold personality, and the way in which he was able to command the audience, responding to the usual heckles in a way that felt improvised but was likely the result of a meticulously cultivated act. His Narrator felt real and fresh and had the audience raring to interact with him every time he stepped foot on the stage, which he welcomed with glee.

Richard Meek and Haley Flaherty are the perfect Brad and Janet, expertly capturing their evolution from shy, virginal couple to shaken and sexually liberated. They develop their characters wonderfully throughout and lend their own outstanding voices to some of our fan favourites. They harmonise beautifully together and, along with the rest of the cast, are to thank for some rousing musical sequences.
The comedic timing between Webb, Meek and Flaherty is masterful; their delivery as a trio is wonderfully camp and cartoonish without going overboard. The cast as a whole is playful and outrageous, pushing the absolute boundaries of their characters and completely embodying their roles and all of the commitment and chaos that this requires.

The cast of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW UK Tour. Photo Credit: David Freeman

There truly was no cast member that felt like a spare part in this performance, between their incredible vocal range, expert execution of Nathan Wright’s electric choreography, and the humour and personality that they brought to Richard O’Brien’s absurd plot. And while they could be forgiven for losing the thread in a world as nonsensical as this one, instead, they bring explosive energy that draws the audience in and allows you to accept the show for what it is – raunchy, ridiculous, and frightfully entertaining.

Carrying through this energy and accompanying it palpably is the band, reminding us exactly what THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW is all about – rock and roll. Their music is every bit as exhilarating and catchy as it has ever been and paired with Nick Riching’s captivating sound design, the musical sequences are constantly exciting.

While the set was somewhat lacking –, particularly in the beginning – that’s not really what THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW is about, and all that quickly falls away once Webb steps onstage. The madness of the storyline, the famously flamboyant costumes, and the iconic songs take away from anything that the set lacks and transport us into Frank N’Furter’s world, in which we wish we could stay forever. And in the final parts of the musical, the set transforms and lends itself to some truly striking visual moments.

Recommended for both die-hard fans and those that have never seen nor heard of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW (though I don’t know how you couldn’t have), this is a show not to be missed and a celebration of 50 years of absurdity, acceptance, authenticity, and amusement.

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW runs at the Opera House, Manchester, until 25 February 2023