Theatre Review: The Rocky Horror Show, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Image Source: ATG

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy
Date: April 29 2019
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

“It’s astounding. Time is fleeting. Madness takes its toll …”

If ever the opening lyrics of a song summed up the show on which it is based, it would be The Time Warp in regards to The Rocky Horror Show. A longtime favourite and a smash hit all across the world, this is a production that isn’t for everybody – but for its significant cult following, it is everything.

After an initial song of Science Fiction/Double Feature by the Usherette (Laura Harrison), the show begins properly with us meeting the Narrator (Beverley Callard), who tells us the strange tale of Janet (Joanne Clifton) and Brad (Ben Adams), a newly-engaged couple coming back from a friend’s wedding, but who break down and visit a nearby castle for assistance.

But by this point, they’re already in trouble. Because awaiting them at said castle are Riff Raff (Kristian Lavercombe), Magenta (also played by Laura Harrison) and Columbia (Miracle Chance), a bizarre trio that you wouldn’t wish to meet in your worst nightmares. But this scenario is reality for Janet and Brad, and they are taken into the main room where they’re surrounded by similarly strange people. It’s this scene where we experience The Time Warp, the most famous dance number from the production, and really one of the more famous original songs in theatre.

Brad and Janet try to leave (understandable), but are denied by the craziest character of all, Frank N Furter (Duncan James). He’s a cross-dressing, pansexual scientist with a craving for sexuality, attention and creativity. After making a very dramatic entrance, he sings Sweet Transvestite, and with him established as the head of the castle, he arranges for the couple to be stripped and sent to his laboratory, where we meet the scientifically-created Rocky (Callum Evans) and other unusual people.

I won’t give away too much of the story, and if anything it serves as more of an extreme examination of these wild men and women as opposed to a slow-building tale. It is essentially a case of seeing what would happen if you took these outlandish characters, put them all in one place, and then tossed in a seemingly-normal, down-to-earth couple in the middle of it all. The outcome is pure anarchy, but it’s all in good fun.

Indeed, the themes of the show are pretty outrageous, from the mad antics of Frank N Furter to the burlesque-style costumes to the seedy environment to the horrific nature of some people’s backgrounds to the occasionally X-rated dance moves and on-screen mannerisms. In the middle of all this, we have the Narrator, who attempts to tell the story as if everything is just normal. Just one issue …

A key draw of the show is audience participation. Without the heckles, this would be an entertaining show, yet one that may leave you with more questions than answers. But with the catcalls, it is a truly unforgettable night at the theatre. The basis for shout-outs is that the Narrator, or either Janet or Brad (usually), will be speaking their lines and deliberately pause at a point when a major insult or innuendo can be screamed from the auditorium floor. The character then says the actual line, which is usually completely acceptable. But by this point, the crowd are in stitches laughing at the increasingly-rude and ridiculous shouts from the attendees. It takes a bit of getting used-to, but it undoubtedly elevates the quality of the evening.

The audience as a whole have a ball here, and not just from shouting out. They’re singing along, they’re dancing along, they’re screaming in excitement – the roof nearly came off the Empire when Frank N Further took to the stage – and they get into the mood even more by wearing costumes akin to those on stage. The result is that you will see sights that you would never see at any other Empire show, but it’s all part of its very unique charm.

The sets are very good, being authentic to the original while also adding modern layers and lighting to maintain audience interest even more. The dialogue is pretty funny, especially during the scenes when Frank N Furter is at his most outrageous. The songs are catchy, and the dance moves are easy to learn. It’s a show which has a proven track record of success when it comes to putting smiles on people’s faces. It’s a night that will take your breath away one minute, then have you laughing until your belly hurts the next.

Summing it up, as I mentioned earlier, The Rocky Horror Show is certainly not for everyone, but its ever-increasing and loyal target audience can’t get enough of it. Theatre aficionados of a certain age simply have to see The Rocky Horror Show at some point (ideally now while it’s in Liverpool), because it will leave you with a very memorable and hilarious experience.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent