Sunderland Empire – until 25 September 2021
After almost two years away, I was shivering with antici … pation to return to the beautiful and very welcoming Sunderland Empire. And what a show to return to, the classic Rocky Horror Show.
Camper than a Scout jamboree and much more fun. Rocky Horror is always hilarious, an adult panto at times with the audience interaction, but Phillip Franks in his role as the Narrator was more than a match for the hecklers in Sunderland.
For those unfamiliar with the story, newly engaged couple Brad and Janet break down on a trip to see their old teacher Dr Scott. In a quest to find a phone they end up at the home of Frank N Furter and his servants Riff Raff, Magenta and Columbia.
Ore Oduba (Brad) and Haley Flaherty (Janet) both deftly manage the transition from virginal couple to depraved disciples of Frank, and both have the chance to showcase their fine voices which more than match the pulsating band. Ben Westhead is the titular Rocky and it’s more his pectoral muscles that are on show rather than his vocal ones and he carries off the role with sufficient skill.
Joe Allen doubling up in his roles of Eddie and his uncle, Dr Scott, is hilarious. A fabulous rendition of both Hot Patootie and Eddie’s Teddy and high kicking in a wheelchair showed what a star is he
Suzie McAdam as Magenta and Lauren Ingram as Columbia are both magnificent – all legs and screaming sexuality. Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff is a revelation, with his powerful voice, he is almost more Riff Raff than the original performed by Richard O’Brien. He has played the part now more times than the great Mr O’Brien
Rightfully though, the show belongs to Frank. And as Frank n Furter, Stephen Webb is a slightly more macho version than normal, but this adds to the fun. His attraction and menace are skilfully portrayed. And he also looks so utterly stunning that it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from him when he’s on stage. Every eyebrow raised or lick of the lips is met with roars of approval by the crowd. A sublime performance.
There isn’t a weak link in this show at all, performers, musicians and outstanding production make this one of the best versions of Rocky Horror to tour in a long time.It’s a fan favourite, full of innuendo, an adult pantomime, camper than Christmas, and a guaranteed standing ovation when the audience rises as one to do an encore of the Time Warp.