The Rocky Horror Show

Richard O'Brien's gender-bending musical arrives in Derry~Londonderry

It starts with Brad and Janet seeking a telephone when their car has a flat tyre one dark and stormy night. It ends with the castle they find themselves in being transported back to the Planet Transsexual along with everyone in it, apart from a wheelchair-bound Nazi.

This is the Rocky Horror Show, and it’s celebrating its 40th anniversary with an all-new production that barrels along from start to finish. It is vibrant, ridiculous, daring, raunchy – even a little bit shocking, in places – and terrific fun.

The story scoops every B-movie plotline and classic character it can lay its hands on. There’s Baron Frankenstein, a little bit of Dracula, sinister servants, a mini-chainsaw massacre, and a sweet, innocent young couple fresh out of high school, as well as aliens who have been sent to earth presumably to observe, although they end up doing nothing quite so reserved.

These are then bound together in a cross-dressing crusade. Seasoned to taste, with a side order of corn, the ingredients are then served with a mad, unquestionable logic.

The show, written by Richard O'Brien and first performed in the West End in 1973, is definitely and defiantly daft, and filled with great songs – 'Sweet Transvestite', 'Eddie', 'Hot Patootie-Bless My Soul', and, of course, 'The Time Warp', all fantastic rock and roll numbers, which lovingly send up the genre. In this production the band sits above the stage and the music is belted out with pace and power and precision.

The songs are performed fantastically well by a young and talented cast who fill the theatre with energy. Rachel Grundy plays Janet. Pure, naive, and conservative to begin with, she soon comes out of her shell – and quite a few of her clothes – to embrace her new experiences with unexpected raunchiness.

Brad is played by Ben Forster (winner of ITV's Superstar talent show in 2012), unashamed of his outer geek, and always longing for Janet even after he sees a new side to her.

The part – and I choose the word carefully – of Rocky Horror is taken by Henry Davis. He struts about the stage flexing his muscles and proudly displaying his leopard-skin underpants with great glee and gusto. But the star of the show is Oliver Thornton, a tall, lithe, completely amoral Dr Frank’n’Furter.

He’s a team-player, there seems no doubt of that, but he loves the stage and he can really occupy it. He sings very well, and he acts with real panache and naughtiness, making the most of every word, and playing the audience perfectly. Thornton looks like a cross between Joan Crawford and Alan Hansen, and he delivers his lines with the voice and timing of Joyce Grenfell, albeit a Joyce Grenfell possessed by an evil spirit.

Well, I say he’s the star of the show, but that might not be quite true, because there’s Philip Franks, too. A well-known face from television, he plays the narrator. Urbane and elegant in a dashing smoking jacket, he is the one member of the cast who stays – more or less – fully dressed for the whole of the show.

He plays his role smoothly and quietly, effortlessly dealing with heckles from the Derry audience, taking the whole thing seriously, but with a twinkle in his eye. Funny and charming, arch and knowing, he performs a minimalist 'Time Warp' and also thoughtfully provides less familiar members of the audience with a handy flipchart of the dance moves.

Special mention must be made of the costume designer, Sue Blane, and set designer, Hugh Durrant. The stage looks terrific, especially the upright bed in which first Janet, then Brad, receive the personal attention of the good doctor, a first time caller in both cases.

The costumes are both gauche and sexy. There are sensible vests, bright white Y-fronts, a modest underskirt, and enough basques to warm the hearts of ETA and make you wish you’d bought shares in Ann Summers.

It can’t be easy to keep such a show new and so full of vitality and appeal, but director Christopher Luscombe has done it here. At the end it seems that the entire audience is up doing 'The Time Warp', and they’d be doing it still if the staff hadn’t turned the lights on.

The Rocky Horror Show runs in the Millennium Forum, Derry~Londonderry until September 7.