It has survived 40 years, travelled to more than 30 countries, been translated into more than 20 languages and was turned into the longest running theatrical release in film history. Yes, it’s The Rocky Horror Show, Richard O’Brien’s sensationally camp musical tribute to cheesy sci-fi, horror B-movies and Fifties rock’n’roll. And, yes, it’s back. Christopher Luscombe directs a 40th anniversary staging that is touring throughout most of 2013. If the audience I found in Wimbledon is any indication, The Time-Warp is thrilling a crowd who weren’t even born when Tim Curry donned suspenders and black stockings as the first Frank-N-Furter in 1973. When a show achieves cult status and acquires the baggage of audience expectation, it inevitably loses some of its original charm. But the beauty of The Rocky Horror Show is its virtual indestructibility. O’Brien’s creation is filled with irresistible, hum-along pop songs, delightfully silly dialogue, perilous platform heels and some of the most outrageous and engrossing characters you will see on a stage. It’s panto for grown-ups — colourful, in your face, relentlessly energetic and high on audience participation (pity the poor narrator Philip Franks who can barely get a word in) — and Luscombe isn’t afraid to indulge it. Hugh Durrant’s cartoony sets and Sue Blane’s flamboyant fashions add to the fun.
But after all the decadence is said and done, it’s the poignancy of Frank’s doomed folly that gives the show heart. This Frank is Oliver Thornton, “the sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”, who sets out to corrupt the young innocent earthlings Brad and Janet. Thornton exudes vigorously grotesque charisma as the crazed, murderous and sexually omniverous scientist from outer space. He struts the stage like a demented Joan Crawford locked in a permanent pelvic thrust. But Thornton uses the seductive honey of his voice to woo our sympathy when Frank’s spectacular end is nigh. Ben Forster has a wonderful voice and engaging presence as Brad; Roxanne Pallett is jolly as the blonde bimbo Janet; Rhydian is the monster Rocky — muscles to die for; while Kristian Lavercombe is commanding as the ghoulish alien Riff Raff.
New Alexandra, Birmingham, to Feb 2. Then touring to November