Fishnets, leather and wigs mean only one thing: the Rocky Horror Show is in town.
For decades, this B-Movie-esque genre rock ‘n’ roll musical has been one of the weirdest and most fabulous productions in the theater world.
The show is a cult following among theatre-goers and one only has to watch the audience at the New Theater Oxford on Monday night to see it.
READ MORE: Photos from the Rocky Horror Show at the New Theater in Oxford
This latest production of Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show stars actor, presenter and Strictly Come Dancing winner Ore Oduba as Brad Majors.
Obuda was joined by Stephen Webb as Frank’n’Furter, Philip Franks as narrator, and Haley Flaherty as Janet.
The show tells the story of two flawless college kids – Brad and his fiancée Janet. When, by a twist of fate, their car breaks down in front of a spooky mansion on their way to their old college professor, they meet the charismatic Dr. Frank ‘n’ Furter.
Fans of all ages were dressed in lingerie, sequined costumes and biker outfits in ode to their favorite characters, making the pre-show atmosphere absolutely electric.
The thrill that was palatable in the auditorium and continued into the start of the opening track “Science Fiction/Double Feature”.
The song is an homage to classic 1950s B-movies and sets the tone for this goofy, self-referential musical:
‘Michael Rennie was sick the day the earth stood still
But he told us where we stood
And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear
Claude Rains was the invisible man
Then something went wrong for Faye Wray and King Kong
They got caught in a celluloid jam
Then at a deadly pace it came from outer space
And that’s how the message ran ‘
This song triggered the most unique and enjoyable part of Rocky Horror: the audience participation.
When the opening number hit the chorus, everyone in the theater pulled out their cellphones, turned on the flash, and started waving them along to the music and singing along.
Although the audience joining the show hasn’t always been as clean, shall we say, as this part. Unlike other productions, it’s taboo not shouting obscenities at the cast. Of course, that’s the weird charm of Rocky Horror and the cast played up several raw moments screamed out by the Oxford audience, leaving them laughing and captivated.
On top of that, the show has no qualms about breaking the fourth wall – making it almost a grown-up pantomime.
A key moment, which the audience loved, was this scene delivered by Philip Franks as he addressed the audience:
Narrator: I would like –
Audience: Would you, would you?
The Narrator: To take you on a strange journey –
Audience: How weird was that?
The Narrator: Almost as weird as partygate in Downing Street!
Another moment that of course stands out is when the famous “Time Warp” started. The audience jumped to their feet and joined in the dancing and singing.
Maybe it was the fact that for so long audiences were separated from the thrill of live theater by the pandemic, but the atmosphere was absolutely electric. The sheer pleasure of being able to participate in a moment of pure musical theater joy with complete strangers was awesome.
At the start of the show, it was clear that set designer Hugh Durrant knew what he was doing. The opening scene shows Brad and Janet in their car returning from a friend’s house and the car and background images had the simple charm of a party hall panto: flat 2D sets that look hand painted.
This simplicity of this set then gives way to an elaborate castle set in place when Brad and Janet walk into Frank’n’Furter. The sudden development of the space emphasizes the set’s gothic-sci-fi creative mix, helping it feel utterly unique and extravagant.
Performance-wise, special praise must be given to Obuda in his role as Brad.
He skillfully took on the role of Brad out of his depth and made the goofy, nerdy character his own. His version was totally sympathetic, hilarious and his talent as an interpreter was undeniable.
Obuda was confident in his reaction to the rude shouting from the audience and made the moments his own emotions.
Much of the fun of Rocky Horror comes from the very fact that the audience enjoys the show so much and the actors feed off of that energy. In many ways, it’s incomparable to other theatrical experiences and, quite simply, that’s what makes it so much fun.
For nearly 50 years, Rocky Horror has thrilled, chilled and thrilled audiences around the world, and judging by the reaction of the Oxford crowd, it will continue to do so for another 50 years.
The show is at the New Theater Oxford until Saturday 29th January.
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