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Rocky Horror Show leaves Dartford's Orchard Theatre audience with tears of laughter

ByCharlie Harman

If ever there's one theatre experience I'd encourage anyone to take part in, it would have to be the Rocky Horror Show.

And by "take part", I mean it literally. For the stage show - which inspired the 1975 cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show - is probably the only production where the audience is encouraged to shout out and bring props.

Callum Evans cuts an impressive figure as Rocky, while Stephen Webb brilliantly obsesses over his new creation. Picture: David Freeman (17408050)
Callum Evans cuts an impressive figure as Rocky, while Stephen Webb brilliantly obsesses over his new creation. Picture: David Freeman (17408050)

The audience at Dartford's Orchard Theatre certainly had their antici......pation fulfilled, as a superlative cast put on a barnstorming performance with perfect vocals and physicality that exhausted us just to watch.

With an updated score, Richard O'Brien's songs shine through and every one is a classic that will leave you singing all the way home.

Opening and closing the show, Laura Harrison's Usherette was one of the highlights of the entire two hours despite only being in two short numbers.

And while I normally find the (arguably) main characters Brad and Janet somewhat two-dimensional, James Darch and Joanne Clifton absolutely smashed their roles.

They added complexity and emotion, and Darch's performance of Once in a While - which is the only song I skip on the soundtrack - was incredibly gripping and well-sung.

Joanne Clifton and James Darch excel in the roles of newly engaged lovebirds Brad Powers and Janet Weiss (17408030)
Joanne Clifton and James Darch excel in the roles of newly engaged lovebirds Brad Powers and Janet Weiss (17408030)

Reprising his role as slippery servant Riff Raff, Kristian Lavercombe took the physically and vocally demanding part in his stride. His comedic timing was on point, and his entrance into the opening scene of Act Two was one of the funniest moments I've ever seen on stage.

Speaking of comedic timing, the true stand-out star was Philip Franks as The Narrator. He literally had the crowd in tears of laughter at points, and ad-libbed stunningly - riffing on extremely current topics and working brilliantly with the intrusive audience participation.

Callum Evans, playing Rocky, also injected comedy into his performance and went above and beyond in a part that requires the utmost physical fitness. Not normally featuring many flips and hand walking, having previously come runner-up in the British Acrobatic Gymnastic Championship and winning the Welsh Championship adds a whole new side to Rocky that I hope can (and will) be brought into future interpretations.

Miracle Chance's Columbia was everything you could want - energetic, zany, mischievous and high-pitched in every way - with a particularly draining three-minute fit of madness performed incredibly well.

The funniest performance of the night came from Philip Franks, best known for his time on The Darling Buds of May. Picture: The Other Richard (17408516)
The funniest performance of the night came from Philip Franks, best known for his time on The Darling Buds of May. Picture: The Other Richard (17408516)

Now onto the show's most iconic character, Dr Frank N Furter.

It was clear that the tour's director had meticulously trained the actors' vocals, with Stephen Webb's emerging as some of the strongest.

However his performance lacked Tim Curry's refined modesty and subtlety. Again, his singing is superb but in my opinion the personality of the ambiguously-gendered genius really shines through in the vocal inflections - something that's impossible if sung all the way through.

While Webb does a good job at portraying the bold and brash aspects of Frank N Furter, the only time I emotionally connected with the character was in his final scene. Still, his enthusiasm is tenable and brings a new interpretation to the role.

Let's do the Time Warp again!. Picture: The Other Richard (17408762)
Let's do the Time Warp again!. Picture: The Other Richard (17408762)

While Webb does a good job at portraying the bold and brash aspects of Frank N Furter, the only time I emotionally connected with the character was in his final scene. Still, his enthusiasm is tenable and brings a new interpretation to the role.

Overall, it's definitely worth going to see. A strong cast with a keen ear for pitch-perfect and hilarious performances, coupled with incredible staging and lighting design - it's a must-see for fans and so-called 'virgins' alike.

The Rocky Horror Show is on at the Dartford Orchard Theatre until Saturday, September 28. Click here for more information.

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