Rocky Horror Show at New Wimbledon Theatre
I have a confession. One that I’m a little ashamed to admit.
Even as a self-confessed musical theatre fan, I’ve never actually seen The Rocky Horror Show. The film or the musical! A fact my friend, who accompanied me to the New Wimbledon Theatre for the 2019 World Tour, was disgusted by! Even after affirming that I was sill aware of the shows popularity and could sing along, quite confidently, to tracks such as Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite, judgement and questions were still unashamedly cast upon me! “I can’t believe it. How? Why?”, it seemed never ending. All was quickly forgiven however as we entered the theatre lobby and the realisation hit him that, being a virgin viewer, I was definitely “in for a treat”. And he was not wrong!
The excitement and antici…….pation from the audience members was evident before we’d even made it into the auditorium. Men, women and fans of all ages filled the foyer and bar areas in an array of costumes that highlighted the cult following this show had gained over the years. The sense of inclusion and non-judgement from all those who had come to view this Monday night performance was a wonderful sight and, against all the British “norms”, strangers were chatting away and taking pictures for and of each other. It helped to build on the thrill of what was to come!
Once seated it became clear to me this wasn’t going to be your normal musical viewing! Audience members weren’t afraid to whoop, and cheer as new people entered and took their seats dressed as Frank N Furter or a Phantom! And whilst the theatre wasn’t sold out, the buzz in the room was enough to make you believe it was! All this before the show had even started so by the time the orchestra began to play the opening number and the Usherette (played by Laura Harrison who would return shortly as the mesmerising Magenta) stepped out on stage, I was eager to see what the cast was going to offer. And I was not disappointed
Harrison set the scene with exceptional vocals before opening the curtains to one of the strongest and multi-talented casts I have had the pleasure of watching!
Ben Adams, in his role as Brad Majors, was the perfect casting. His cute, geeky and awkward portrayal of our “hero” was strengthened by his smooth singing voice and, being old enough to remember Adams in his days as the lead of boyband A1, I couldn’t help question if he’d aged at all!
Joanne Clifton (Janet Weiss), better known to me as one of the more recognisable ex professionals of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, left me in awe of her never-ending talents. If you ever need a clear definition of what a triple threat needs to be, look no further than Clifton. Add to that her perfect comedy timing and fabulous characterisation and it’s not hard to see why she decided to move on from the popular BBC show!
With a show like Rocky Horror, audience participation is expected (and at times encouraged) and I enjoyed watching the cast trying not to break as another audience member yelled out a profanity or a wisecrack that was aimed to throw them off!
Dom Joly, as the Narrator, offered us a masterclass in handling such a situation and would often have the audience in stitches with his quick-thinking comebacks and straight-faced delivery! It became very clear very quickly we were dealing with a seasoned professional. Nothing was going to faze him!
By the time the introduction to Sweet Transvestite filled the auditorium in preparation of Frank N Furter’s big entrance, I had leaned over to my friend at least twice to comment on how much I was enjoying it. And once Stephen Webb (Frank) hit the stage and inevitably removed his cloak to reveal the iconic basque and suspenders concealed underneath, I had stopped taking notes in my capacity as a reviewer and simply lost myself in the spectacle and ceremony that was the show.
Webb commanded your attention from the moment he entered until his final bow. Playing a character as charismatic and equally crazed as Frank isn’t an easy feat, but he was able to blend the masculinity, femininity and sexuality needed to pull of this historic role seamlessly. Although his accent would slip slightly throughout the performance, it was easily forgiven when you consider his continuous high energy, rock solid vocals and intoxicating portrayal of the sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania! The rapturous applause during his final bow was testament to that and undoubtedly deserved!
The show programme states that Kristian Lavercombe has notched up over 1400 performances across numerous tours of The Rocky Horror Show. A fact that’s easily identified by his smooth, unwavering and seasoned depiction of Riff Raff, the strange and sinister man servant, who had the audience on their feet during the shows arguably most famous musical number Time Warp. Lavercombe, in line with his cast mates, showcased a powerful singing voice and an unquestionable expertise in the role.
As if the above wasn’t enough to keep the audience on a high throughout the performance, the entrance of Rocky, played by Callum Evans, sent a noticeable stir through the auditorium. It must be said, Evans is very pleasing to the eye. The role of Rocky calls for a muscular man created by Frank N Furter who almost looks to good to be true. Evans most definitely fills this criterion. However, when you are as aesthetically pleasing as Evans is, it would be easy to assume you would need to do very little else. You’d be wrong. His outstanding vocals and jaw dropping agility (he is an accomplished acrobatic gymnast) was, at times, show stopping. In parts I would find myself thinking (with maybe a slight hint of jealousy) ‘is there anything this guy can’t do’?!
It should also be noted that the remaining cast members were all just as strong! The aforementioned Laura Harrison as Magenta, Miracle Change as Columbia and Ross Chisari as Eddie/Dr Scott were all outstanding in their roles (Chisari as the wheelchair bound Dr Scott was a comedic highlight). Alongside the phantoms, the overall production and execution of this show was slick, and the choreography was simple and effective!
The staging was clean and uncomplicated, flawlessly transitioning between Frank N Furter’s hallway into his laboratory. I particularly enjoyed the cartoon like scenery at the start of the show before we were introduced to a more gothic like interior once inside the castle. The stuffed animal heads almost felt like they were primed to pounce at any moment.
Additional high points for me were the flood of lighting, provided by the audience, that filled the theatre during Over at the Frankenstein Place and the very cleverly choreographed bedroom scene between Frank, Janet & Brad.
I think it’s fair to say The Rocky Horror Show has secured itself as a favourite for me and this is due, in part, to this fabulous production and exceptionally strong cast! Do not hesitate to purchase a ticket as soon as possible!
Review by Kemal Ibrahim
To find out more about Rocky Horror and to see where it is going next on tour check out their website.