As the bedazzled, dragged up punters filed into the Empire Theatre, I couldn’t help but feel a little underdressed. A shirt, jeans and an overcoat not does a Rocky Horror fanatic make. However, for someone who hadn’t seen the show or the 1975 film of the same name, I went into it with an open mind – and left with my eyes truly opened.
Things didn’t begin overly promising, though. Dreary staging does nothing to help show opener Science Fiction Double Feature – lovely vocals aside, for a show that packs a powerful punch mere minutes later, the audience isn’t exactly left gagging for more. Within a few songs though, the audience are up out of their seats for the infamous Time Warp. Never have I seen a theatre crowd on their feet as quickly as this one.
Liam Tamne is the perfect mix of masculinity and feminine sex appeal as Frank N Furter. Parading up stage like the cat that got the cream, he makes what is a notoriously difficult role look effortless. This is more of a singer’s take on Frank, whereas Tim Currie’s famous turn was more about the aesthetic. Here, Tamne nails both in his quest to, well, nail both Janet and Brad. he is sexy, intoxicating and vocally sensational.
Ben Freeman is also a revelation. You may know him as an ex-Emmerdale actor but he has been building quite the theatre CV since he left the soap, with leading parts in West End productions like Wicked and Legally Blonde. Here he’s camping it up as Brad alongside Diana Vickers’ Janet – high school sweethearts in perverted gaze of Frank, who wants to have his wicked way with them. Vickers plays sweet and innocent well and her american accent, along with Freeman’s, is spot-on. If you’re expecting the nasal, indie princess from The X Factor then you’re at the wrong show. Her voice has matured for the better. Mentions must go to the supporting players. Kristin Lavercombe as Riff-Raff, Sophie Linder-Lee as Columbia and Kay Murphy as Magenta continually threaten to upstage the leads. An ensemble playing off of each other is the heart of any show and here there is heart in abundance.
The show is essentially a sing-a-long version of the film. If Rocky Horror fans are anything, they’re fanatical. I’m not sure whether the whooping and shouting out of sexual innuendos adds to the experience – it’s hard to get lost in a story when theres a thousand others sharing it (loudly) with you. In Act Two, it definitely helps – encores of Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite bring the house down and the audience are once again on their feet. Don’t expect a reserved audience – they are essentially part of the cast here. And although they may not be on the stage, they put in one hell of a performance.
The Rocky Horror Show is at the Sunderland Empire until Saturday February 20. Click here for tickets