Michael Cross

Review: The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Sunderland Empire

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The Rocky Horror breathes new life at Sunderland Empire

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When The Rocky Horror Picture Show hit the silver screen 40 years ago, its slogan was “a different set of jaws”, and it couldn’t be any truer today with the latest cast who breathe new life into the cult classic’s touring production.

The show is a who’s who of reality and soap TV, with the male and female protagonist Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, played by X-Factor’s Diana Vickers and Emmerdale’s Ben Freeman, whose singing was on point throughout, but performances lacked humour and (eventual) sexual freeness which forms the shows backbone, and leaves you willing their portrayals to “give themselves over to absolute pleasure”.

The sexual promiscuity (or lack of Vickers and Freeman’s cases) is balanced by lead actor Liam Tamne, whose version of Transsexual Scientist Frank-N-Furter brings a new perception to the character.

Overall, he does the character justice by heightening his sexual nature ten-fold towards the other characters and audience. However, Tamne’s voice of Furter left me uncomfortable in parts, with his Southern Bell American accent, which is something I’ve never seen done before in a production and is somewhat distracting in parts.

Nevertheless, his performance of Sweet Transvestite, Don’t Dream It Be It and I’m Going Home are some of the strongest performances I’ve seen in more than the ten years I’ve been seeing it.

The show throughout its history has evolved into layers of audience participation – something I implore you to learn, as this brings another level to the actors performance and, on occasion, sees them break from character, or in the case of Tamne – stick two fingers up to a persistent heckler (who shouted “boring!” at him).

No one in the cast takes more of a verbal beating than the Narrator, Steve Punt, who handles insults about the characters, plot and his career like a pro by firing one-liners and statements back to the audience.

The show also sees the return of ripped Dominic Andersen (Rocky) and Kristian Lavercombe (Riff Raff) whose characterisation of the Creation and the Handyman are witty, humorous and sexy in Andersen’s case, with his leopard print briefs and traditional gold boxing boots.

The musical overall is great and leaves you Time-Warping out of the theatre. Having a younger cast was an initial concern but they add an influx of sex appeal, a carefree charm (in Tamne’s case) and revitalisation of well-known characters. It’s a great introduction for any ‘virgins’ out there who want to experience Rocky Horror at its best and a great night out for diehard Rocky lovers who deck the seats with so much tributary costumes the theatre turns into a Rocky convention.

I believe it is Frank who sums up the show perfectly in ‘Wild And Untamed Thing’: “You get a hit and your mind goes ping, your heart will pump and your blood will sing. So let the party and the sound rock on,”  – and it leaves you rocking on in the isles.

Paul Cattermole, playing the role of Eddie and Dr Scott, did not perform due to back injury.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is at Sunderland Empire Theatre 12 – 20 February 2016, tickets available from Box Office and Online ticket outlets.

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