One has to ask whether Richard O’Brien, when first thinking of writing a pastiche 1950s transsexual alien spoof musical, thought that he was creating such an enduring piece of theatre. It matters not because intentional or not, what he did create is as vibrant and entertaining as ever – some fifty years on. Yes, it’s half a century since Frank N Furter and his gang of miscreants first lured Brad and Janet into their world of deviant sex and diabolical science.

I first saw this in the 1970s when it had transferred from The Royal Court to a rather down at heel cinema further along the Kings Road. It was eye opening stuff, outrageous, brash and noisy but unlike so many modern musicals it had something that marked it out as special. It wasn’t just the racy content or extraordinary performances, it was the songs, songs that we left the theatre singing, lyrics that stuck fast and have remained there ever since. There’s not a duff number in the entire show, clever songs that invade your soul and songs that challenge the cast too. To pull of this show it requires a company that can sing, sing in period style and do all this whilst the audience, almost rabid with passion for the show, bombard them with heckles that have grown out of the later cinema incarnation of O’Brien’s classic.

This current world touring production is blessed with such a cast, and let’s face it, there have been some pretty stellar casts before them. O’Brien himself created the role of Riff Raff on stage and film, but Kristian Lavercombe more than lives up to that legend, a fact confirmed by his record of playing the role in excess of 2000 times! Richard Meek makes a very fine Brad, straight laced and fine voiced until he succumbs to Frank N Furter’s advances and then… Haley Flaherty is equally innocent until that moment and her searing soprano voice is perfection when delivering those iconic songs.Stephen Webb probably has the most difficult role to play as Frank when so many of us remember previous incarnations, but he more than steps up to the mark with a full on, richly voiced and devilishly, deliciously camp interpretation that payed respect to those previous icons without being a slavish impersonation.

Suzie McAdam launches the whole as the usherette with panache before returning as Magenta and has one of the finest voices of the evening. Darcy Finder is a voluptuous and vampish Columbia, Joe Allen’s dual roles of Eddie and Dr Scott are powerfully delivered, especially as Eddie and the company of phantoms add both menace and humour to the whole.

Director Christopher Luscombe’s production is standing the test of time as are Hugh Durrant’s clever and finely detailed set and Sue Blane’s costumes.

The final words though must go to the narrator, on this occasion and not for the first time Philip Franks. He brings a definite dangerous charm to the role, dealing with the at times rowdy heckling from the audience and peppering the whole with cheeky ad libs and topical and topographical quips. They may well be scripted and rehearsed but he does it with such composure and dignity and just the slightest of cheeky grins that it appears to be spontaneous.

So fifty years on and personally over ten viewings on my part I can see why this show will live on and continue to sell out. I will no doubt be back again and again.

Andrew Kay

3 January

Theatre Royal Brighton

Rating: ★★★★★

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