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The Rocky Horror Show

Richard O'Brien 

Rocky Horror Company, Meryl Faiers, Daniel Brodie, Matt Parritt

Manchester Opera House, February 20-25, 2023; 2hrs

(Also Chester Storyhouse February 27-March 4; Stockton Globe April 24-29; Leeds Grand June 27-July 1; Crewe Lyceum July 10-15; Bradford Alhambra September 25-30, always check start time)

The cast of The Rocky Horror Show's 2022-23, 50th anniversary tour
The cast of The Rocky Horror Show's 2022-23, 50th anniversary tour. Pics: David Freeman

Rocky Horror is truly a phenomenon; with the longest continuous run of a contemporary musical worldwide, the show is now celebrating "50 years of fun". Popularised by the movie version of 1975 (originally a flop that then found a cult following in interactive showings with enthusiastic off-colour audience participation), the show is adored worldwide. The fans were indeed out in force in Manchester last night, with the usual fancy dress evident in the auditorium: feather boas, fishnet stockings and suspender belts - and that's just the fellas.

I was tussling as to whether to get dressed or turn up in my knickers, but Manchester in February got the better of me and I arrived fully clothed (though careful not to bring an anorak, which anyone will tell you are banned).

With the audience shout-outs (ie semi-scripted heckling) not just allowed but encouraged, this show not only welcomes but includes its audience of fancy-dressers, sexy gender-benders and mid-week party-goers. We are there to be shocked and thrilled and to lean in and sing and dance along to the familiar numbers (Damn It Janet, Sweet Transvestite, Time Warp etc), to identify with the crazy band of misfits (including show-stealer Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff) and to gape in awe at the central "Sweet Transvestite", Dr Frank N Furter (Stephen Webb).

These songs are bangers, but the musical quality comes early in the show, a problem solved by an extensive encore after the bows of those favourites. 

The thing about a 50-year run, one might argue, is that it is a mixed blessing. Rocky Horror is a cult phenomenon, loved globally, that comes with the usual kind of problems of a show being 50 years old. There's terminology that we might find awkward, and conflation between fluid or ambiguous gender identity, sexuality and predatory behaviour that in today's climate could be read as deeply troubling.  But we should remember that while the audience loves Frank, despite his questionable ethics, this is not just a sexual problem - he also lobotomises, murders, and possibly eats one character. So perhaps we might solve this by acknowledging his villainy, while admiring his confidence, and of course his risque ensemble.

The intended visual shock factor is also far less than it once was, acquainted culturally as we now are, with Ru Paul and her protegees, with drag as a polished and multi-faceted art form. But it remains a kind of club for the initiated, with an ongoing cult following. 

Rocky Horror is a show and a movie that is said to have saved lives. It is of its time, and in its time a community found solace, a family and one another. It is still loved for that reason: that in a family of misfits, all might belong.

In an age of more nuanced understanding and, one hopes, acceptance of gender and sexual identities, it might take us a time warp to get back there,l; but the warmth and feeling of community was evident in Manchester last night.

More info and tickets here


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