The Rocky Horror Show

Oct 29 2019 | By More

★★★★☆    Blue moves

Playhouse: Mon 28 Oct – Sat 2 Nov 2019
Review by Thom Dibdin

Big, camp and packing a glitter-ball attitude to rock’n’roll, the latest touring production of The Rocky Horror Show piles in to the Playhouse for the final week of its extended UK tour.

This is an utter bundle of fun, performed by a cast, led by Blue’s Duncan James as Frank N Furter and one-time Strictly professional Joanne Clifton as Janet Weiss, who are clearly having a ball as the show builds up to the final night of the tour in its biggest venue – by way of Halloween.

Duncan James. Pic: Richard Davenport

And hats off to anyone lucky enough to have tickets for either the Thursday or the Saturday night performances – or even to both. The options for dressing up on Halloween and the energy of the last night of the tour are bound to create particular belters!

Interestingly, it is that Halloween performance which gives the best steer to understand what has become of Richard O’Brien’s rock’n’roll musical since its first performance, in the Royal Court London’s tiny upstairs theatre, in 1973.

Much remains the same. The story of innocents Janet and Brad, who seek help during a storm at a castle run by sex-crazed aliens experimenting with the creation of new life forms, retains the schlock B-Movie brilliance it always had. And its internal logic is just as coherent as it ever was.

audience interaction

The big rock riffs and punchy numbers still drive the plot and the script is nothing but embellished by mocking audience shout outs and responses to Philip Franks as the Narrator. The audience interaction has become as much a part of the show as its signature number, the Time Warp.

Joanne Clifton and James Darch. Pic Rocky Horror

In Halloween terms, the difference is like the difference between guising and trick-or-treating. There’s earthiness to the former that is lost in the version which crossed the Atlantic and came back from America, a feeling of being in touch with something other-worldly. It is still there, but only in the imagery and not the reality of the new take.

For Rocky Horror, what is lost is the sense of transgression to the show. Not so much in its cross dressing, although that feels rather more affirmative and celebratory than it once did (no worries about that!). But making Frank N Furter’s murder of Rocky and his dubious seductions of Janet and Brad even more moments of comedy than they once were, reduces their impact as indications that Frank’s moral compass is somewhat wayward.


That said, this is a production which takes a solid core of performers who are punctilious in their attention to the details of the performance – and embellishes them with star performers who are there for their ability as much as for their pulling power.

Philip Franks. Pic: Richard Davenport

Fans of Blue will have their expectations thoroughly blown away by Duncan James as Frank N Furter, giving a performance which is blue in a properly X-rated way. Vocally it is stunning and there’s no second meaning to his lascivious, pumped up eroticism, nor any teetering around on those heels which he wears with genuine ability.

And anyone looking for a bit of edge will find relief from Philip Franks as the Narrator. In the pantomime of his asides he makes it all seem totally off the cuff and is completely unafraid to step into big, controversial political territory with audience-pleasing jokes about who the inhabitants of ditches should be and Harvey Weinstein. Not to mention a peach of a Prince Andrew reference.

James Darch, who was a particularly charming Prince Charming in the King’s 2017 Cinderella, is great casting as Brad. He brings a soft edge and is all the better for it in the context of the rest of the production, while having a deliciously honey-coated delivery for the wistful Once In A While.

trashy B-Movie undertones

Laura Harrison is a fab treat as the Usherette with her in-front-of-the-curtain opening number, visually and vocally setting up the trashy B-Movie undertones with Science Fiction/Double Feature, and doubling as an authentically wayward Magenta.

Callum Evans with Duncan James. Pic: Richard Davenport

Callum Evans, with little more than a leopard print posing pouch to cover his muscle-builder body, back-flips and dances his way into a Rocky who is more than just a bit of eye-candy. This allows Joanne Clifton to really let loose in a Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me that makes previous versions of the number seem static and lacking in dynamism.

Kristian Lavercome has apparently notched up over 1500 performance as Riff Raff and it shows in his ability to take the role to the edge – although there is nothing jaded or lacking here. He’s that backbone the show needs; solid, dependable and letting the rest of the cast shine as they can.

Sue Blane’s original costumes, Christopher Luscombe’s direction first seen in 2006, Hugh Durrant’s more recent set design and Nathan M Wright’s choreography all still work as they should, while George Carter keeps the band tight and suitably high in the mix.

All told, this 46 year-old is still a thoroughly groovy treat and great entertainment from its saucy beginning to its big trashy end.

Running time: Two hours (including one interval).
Edinburgh Playhouse
18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA. Phone booking: 0844 871 3014.
Monday 28 October – Saturday 2 November 2019
Mon – Thurs: 8pm; Fri/Sat: 5.30pm & 8.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book now.

Laura Harrison (Magenta) and company. Pic: Richard Davenport


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