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Review of The Rocky Horror Show at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Richard O’Brien’s anarchic, crazy, surreal, weird, bizarre and often incomprehensible musical The Rocky Horror Show is knocking on the door of turning fifty years old, and its success seems to continue as if it was fresh out of the crazy box yesterday. So, a review might seem pointless as the dressed-up audiences constantly fill every theatre it comes to, however, dammit, let us write one anyway.

The Rocky Horror Show tells of the adventures of Brad and Janet, two young, newly engaged love birds. On a dark and grim November evening, they run into car problems and find themselves at a Frankenstein-esque castle and meet handyman Riff-Raff, crazy scientist Dr. Frank N Furter and an assortment of crazy characters. What follows is a science fiction B-movie story which sometimes you can follow, and sometimes you can’t and oddly, it doesn’t really matter.

I first saw The Rocky Horror Show in 2019, and it must be said it was a baptism of fire witnessing its crude, crazy humour and bizarre story coupled with the somewhat surprising amount of audience participation. However, three years later I came prepared with that knowledge (and over half a bottle of wine inside me) and guess what? I really, really enjoyed it. Disclaimer: alcohol isn’t a requirement to enjoy it.

It helped that this version was a much sharper presentation thanks to an exceptionally better cast. When I saw the show previously, the superb Kristian Lavercombe played Riff Raff and then was the star of the show, and he features here again as does the equally excellent Stephen Webb as Frank N Furter. However, while they present their signature excellent performances in characters they have played for a considerable time, they do, on this occasion get upstaged elsewhere.

For me, the star of the show this time is the role which was one of the weakest elements my last time up, the narrator. Philip Franks here is simply incredible and worth the ticket price on his own. His sharpness of delivery and his assuredness with the audience is everything the role needs. It helps that he has impeccable timing in his delivery and that his jokes are sharp as a knife. The Prince Andrew one especially is one to be relished.

Elsewhere, maybe the biggest surprise is Ore Oduba as Brad, a comical masterpiece of delivery with awkwardness to perfection. A success of "name" casting, unlike many a time in the past. He also is an excellent singer and delivers his numbers alongside Haley Flaherty’s captivating Janet to perfection. Their partnership is a highlight throughout the show.

There are few weak links in this production and the ensemble and cast bristles with energy upon Hugh Durrant’s perfectly comic book-like and bright set. They expertly delivered the musical numbers alongside Greg Arrowsmith’s directorship of his excellent band. Director Christopher Luscombe keeps this two-hour show (including the interval) moving sharply with no dip in pace at all and creates slick and smooth scene changes with the minimum of set change requirements.

The Rocky Horror Show is at its best in the first act when it has a more precise story being told and without doubt the best of the songs such as the excellent Damn It, Janet, Over at the Frankenstein Place and of course Time Warp which sees many of the audience out of their seats really early in the show.

This incarnation of The Rocky Horror Show comes overwhelmingly recommended, be you a regular, which means you are coming anyway, or new to the show. It is a show that all theatre audiences should witness at least once, to see if they are a fan of this incredibly bizarre and iconic show, and this version with this excellent cast is probably the very best place to begin.

The most surreal and fun night to be had without the use of hallucinogenic drugs.


Performance reviewed: Monday 4th July 2022 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.

The Rocky Horror Show runs at Royal & Derngate until Saturday 9th July 2022.

For further details about the Royal & Derngate see their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk


Production photos: David Freeman


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