Preposterous fun and phenomenal performance

Rocky Horror Show at Eastbourne's Congress Theatre
Rocky Horror Show at Eastbourne's Congress Theatre

So, the Congress Theatre foyer is awash with feather boas and fishnets. Ghoulish make-up drips from the faces of audience members and a selection of garish trivia is on sale. It must be the Rocky Horror Show.

This, in a way, is pantomime for grown-ups. In a few months time, next door at the Devonshire Park, the little people will be trotting up in their best princess dresses, or waving light sabres and yelling at the performers in the panto. Here, theatre-goers who are - dare I say it - old enough to know better can shamelessly revel in their own audience participation.

Richard O’Brien was an unemployed actor when, in 1973, he scribbled his way through a chilly winter and emerged with a pretty improbable script based on some outlandish ideas. Forty years later members at the Royal Court Theatre, where it had first seen the light of day, voted it the theatre’s favourite production of all time.

Chatting a couple of weeks ago with lead actor Paul Cattermole, I wondered if Rocky Horror was actually only for the devotees and not the neutrals or casual punters. “We get an interesting mix,” replied Paul. “The start of the week tends to be a little bit quieter, with quite a few Rocky virgins in the audience, but by the Friday and Saturday it’s just crammed with all the hardcore fans.”

Certainly Tuesday’s opening night was a mix. The front rows were laced with word-perfect fans eager to start the dialogue with Narrator Steve Punt from the very opening lines. By the second half, everyone has caught the mood and virtually the whole auditorium is up and joining in the Time Warp.

That infectious, irresistible sense of enjoyment is entirely down to a cast which pulses with energy. Director Chris Luscombe never lets the pace flag. Under Ben Van Tienen the superbly accomplished band throbs, as does much of the movement on stage. Costumes, lighting, set are all primary-colours dazzling on the eye. There are no half-measures in this show.

The plot, ah yes, the plot. The starting premise is pure B-movie.

Sweethearts Brad and Janet - engaging and well-matched Richard Meek and Haley Flaherty - are broken down in the middle of nowhere and they seek help, as you do, at a forbidding Gothic castle peopled by a mad scientist and his bizarre entourage.

It is the Frankenstein story retold, or more correctly, sent up. Frankenstein was a serious novel - like Faust before it and Brave New World since, a morality tale of man’s dangerous dabbling with nature. Richard O’Brien simply trivialises it, but heck, it’s all deliciously funny and the show makes no pretensions at great moral statements.

Dominating the action is a phenomenal performance from Liam Tamne as Dr Frank-N-Furter, outrageously cross-dressing and provocative in every twitch and sinew. His wonderful trio of household staff are exactly in role and absolutely loving it. Kristian Lavercombe has long since made the Riff-Raff role his own, Sophie Linder-Lee is a striking, exuberant Columbia with a fabulous voice, and Kay Murphy’s Magenta could seduce even those Rocky virgins hiding at the back of the stalls.

Paul Cattermole - once of S Club 7 but happy, no doubt, to have moved on - is a quite quirky Eddie/Dr Scott. And Dominic Andersen is the perfect body beautiful, inhabiting the Rocky role with every rippling muscle. The ensemble dance their socks - or fishnets - off, and no expressive movement is lost or wasted. The musical numbers often have a telling and quite surprising beauty, shining through the grotesque setting. And in the final awesome sequence, transporting Castle Frankenstein to the galaxy of Transylvania, the whole theatre has lift-off.

Yes, it’s a piece of preposterous, other-worldly nonsense. But that is exactly what Rocky Horror sets out to be, and those who love it will be loving it all over again at the Congress this week.

By Kevin Anderson

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