I could finish this review in an instant, with just one word: brilliant, but last night’s Rocky Horror Show in Manchester deserves at least a few more superlatives 

The longest continuous run of a contemporary musical anywhere in the world, this year Richard O’Brien’s rock’n’roll show is celebrating 50 years of bonkers fun, with audiences which (largely) know what they’re getting into promised the most memorable of nights out.

The Rocky Horror Show somewhat defies a neat description. It’s a musical, with largely rock’n’roll genre songs, but that’s where the simplicity stops, because the rest is decidedly weird, nuts, brilliant fun. 

Great British Life: Frank reveals his dastardly plan...Frank reveals his dastardly plan... (Image: David Freeman)

At last night’s show, in Manchester, around 50 per cent of the audience was in full fancy dress, from varying versions of Frank N Furter, Brad and Janet to many, many Magentas and even the occasional Rocky; though Manchester in February perhaps isn’t the place to be parading about in gold lame hot pants. Not that this is unusual in Manchester, of course. I’m just grateful I wasn’t sitting behind one of the dozens of gold top hats being worn. The couple in front of us were comfortably into their 60s and were clearly regulars, leaping up to do the Time Warp with practiced ease. The pair to the right are in their 20s, and one was a Rocky Horror virgin – her wide-eyed stare at the interval proving most satisfying to her partner, and surrounding audience members. I won’t share my age, but I will share that this is my third experience of the live show and it doesn’t get less hilarious. 

For those who don’t know, in short, this is a story of a stereotypical American couple of the 1950s, clean-living innocents, newly engaged, off to see their high school science teacher to share the news (I never have got to the bottom of why). On their way, a storm and a blown tire force them to knock on the doors of a nearby creepy castle (of course) and ask to use the phone. From here on in it all gets complicated, and to be fair, I am not sure the plot, such as it is, really matters. 

The audience falls into two types – those who know, and those who are about to learn. Audience participation is central to the fun, there’s even a guide online so those who want to can play their part. I learn this from a grey-haired, bearded 50-something who tells me about it with glee, moments before he bellows “Dammit” at Janet, causing his partner to leap in her seat. It’s the regular shout outs from the auditorium that make this show worth so many multiple visits. Even if you don’t take part in the dressing up or the “parti-ci-(say it)-pation”, the people filling the seats around you will draw you into their cultlike world of fun, laughter and feeling just a little bit like you’re part of something considerably more loved than most musicals. 

Great British Life: Dammit, Janet!Dammit, Janet! (Image: David Freeman)

The current tour needs no famous faces, no West End (or television) superstars, it’s more than capable of filling theatres and delighting audiences across the UK. The cast is so incredibly talented fame is irrelevant.

Opening the show, Suzie McAdam (as the Usherette) shows the audience just what to expect, with a powerful voice that pins the audience to their seats. Brad (Richard Meek) and Janet (Haley Flaherty) are marvelous in their roles, providing just the sense of Americana needed to start proceedings, before we’re whisked off to Transylvan-i-ahhh. Rocky Horror (this season wearing leopard print) has clearly been working out, and balances his physicality with a wide-eyed innocence he'll soon lose.

Great British Life: Frank N Furter (played by Stephen Webb) demands all the attentionFrank N Furter (played by Stephen Webb) demands all the attention (Image: David Freeman)

Frank N Furter, played by Stephen Webb, is of course the biggest presence on the stage, but despite his massive voice and his superb physicality, he doesn’t overwhelm or throw his fellow cast members into the shade, despite what must be enormous temptation. He is utterly brilliant, mesmerising to watch and wow, does he know how to work it. 

Last night we also saw a step up into the role of the Narrator, by Reece Budin, who totally nailed it, parti-ci-pating in all the banter, making the narration very much his own and bringing audience and storyline together with ease. 

If you haven’t seen it, book yourself a ticket and brace yourself for the most completely bonkers experience you can hope for, a night you won’t forget in a hurry. 

The Rocky Horror Show plays at Manchester Opera House till 25 February 2023, before moving to Storyhouse Chester, from 27 February to 4 March