Perhaps it’s Christopher Luscombe’s direction, or maybe it is Nathan M Wright’s choreography. It could be Hugh Durrant’s new set design, or just simply the casting. Perhaps, as I suspect, it’s a combination of all of them, but something has turned the 40th anniversary Rocky Horror Show into a vibrant, fresh, energetic and – above all – absolutely fantastic production.
As the curtain opens to reveal the “wedding scene”, the first thing which we notice are the colours. Gone is the dark metallic set; in its place are an almost cartoon-like car and a huge American church which quickly morphs into the “Frankenstein Place” after a flat tyre forces the events of the evening to unfold.
Ben Forster, fresh from his success in Jesus Christ Superstar, proves that he is an incredibly versatile actor by delivering a breathtakingly nerdy performance as Brad Majors. At the same time as he obviously relishes the “geekiness” of the role, he also delivers faultless vocals and his amazing version of "Once in a while" is terrifically moving, with many in the audience feeling the character’s pain.
Brad’s girlfriend Janet Weiss is played by Roxanne Pallett. She also delivers a faultless performance as she transforms from sweet and innocent girl-next-door into... well, let’s just say that she’s a girl with a lot of love to give! One of the recipients of her enthusiastic advances is Rhydian, who leaves his opera-singing X-Factor days way behind him and replaces them with leopard skin Speedos, bulging muscles and plenty of fake tan as Rocky.
With no weak link in sight, the other stalwarts of the piece also deliver well, with Riff Raff Kristian Lavercombe, Magenta Abigail Jaye, Columbia Ceris Hine and the dual role of Eddie / Dr Scott Joel Montague all getting the chance to show off their powerful vocals and unbounded enthusiasm throughout the show. They each get their chance to deliver their signature pieces, which they do with a combination of excitement and respect, making the faithful fans in the audience go completely wild.
One of the most unpredictable roles in the show has always been that of the Narrator. Often in the past shared by a variety of celebrity performers, it now falls squarely on the shoulders of Philip Franks to deal with the vast amount of “heckling”. It must help him that most of the heckles are as scripted as the show because, as they fly at him, he bats them away with the skill of a first-class cricketer and returns to his role with impeccable comic timing.
Following in some very hefty stiletto-shod footprints is Oliver Thornton who, as Dr Frank 'N' Furter, is enthusiastically welcomed to the stage with his signature number, "Sweet transvestite". Tall and slim, clad only in figure-hugging lingerie, he impresses with his crisp and clear vocals, his ability to walk in perfectly massive heels and (how can I put this tastefully?), (whether he is walking towards you or away from you) his outstanding features! To a chorus of wolf-whistles from most of the ladies, and a large number of the men, in the audience he fixes his hair, swishes his cape, raises one eyebrow, pouts with meticulous precision and really makes the role his own.
Rocky Horror has always had a cult following but, with its incredibly high production values leading the way, it is now more than ready to head round the country and show a brand new audience that life really does begin at forty.