Even on a damp and drizzly Monday night, there was no stopping the time-warp on Wearside.
In most musicals everyone gets up on their feet at the end - often after some serious coercion - but the Empire crowd were up singing and dancing twenty minutes into Rocky Horror Show, fishnets and all.
Yes, fishnets. For those who aren’t acquainted with this cult classic, the audience are as much a spectacle as those in the spotlight. It was quite a shock to my friend, a Rocky virgin, to see members of the audience filing into the theatre in suspenders and stockings.
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She was even more shocked when the whooping, hollering and innuendos started flying from the crowd without so much as a blink of an eye from the ushers. I tried to explain the plot to her, but it’s basically bonkers.
Square couple Brad (Richard Meek) and Haley Flaherty (Janet) get a flat tyre one night and end up knocking on the castle door of Dr Frank-N-Furter (Liam Tamne).
Inside, they’re met by the castle’s lascivious residents and it all goes a little bit sci-fi and a little bit horror, strung together with the sauciest scenes you’re likely to see on the Sunderland stage. (This is not one for the whippersnappers)
Mix all the elements together and there’s something refreshing about Rocky, even 40 years after its inception. It’s a show where anything goes - even breaking the fourth wall.
Thespian actor Philip Franks breaks it with aplomb as the Narrator.
His quick wit, sublime delivery and knack of fielding the shout outs from the crowd with style was the standout performance of the night for me. His role gives him the luxury of tinkering with the script and he even threw in some “Trump” and “Pennywell and Hendon” references to mix it up.
Liam Tamne is a captivating Frank-N-Furter as he slinks about the stage intoxicating Brad and Janet, and the audience, with his carnal desires, never more so than in his excellent rendition of Sweet Transvestite as he snarls out the famous lines with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
One of Frank’s greatest creations is, of course, Rocky and Dominic Andersen does a grand job of making the eponymous hero leap from the stage, in all his leopard print pants glory. (His one-handed press ups are worth the ticket price alone)
As Frank’s den of iniquity begins to crumble around him, the high-production values kick in as lasers beam into the audience and the live band crank up the decibels. More modern shows sadly choose a sound track over musicians, but there’s nothing quite like the drum of live music.
Especially when they perform with a score as gloriously garish as Rocky Horror’s.
I defy anyone not to feel their toes tapping to the likes of Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me.
Come the finale and we were all putting our hands on our hips. Again.