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21st February 2023

Review: The Rocky Horror Show

The Rocky Horror Show’s sweet transvestites from Transexual Transylvania seduce the audience of Manchester Opera House
Review: The Rocky Horror Show
Photo: David Freeman

I have no shame in revealing this was my third time fixed in the seats of The Rocky Horror Show stalls and by the end of the week I’ll have seen it four times (yes, twice in one week). Before becoming a writer for The Mancunion I’d never watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Candidly, I only signed myself up to review the show so that I could take my friend (who is a long-established fan) while gaining some experience writing for various genres. Little did I know I’d fall in love. So, forgive my endless spiel of praise about this sexy, progressive, gothic, comedy.

The story focuses on the recently engaged couple – Brad and Janet, travelling to meet their good friend and former professor Dr Everett. V Scott. However, the couple is halted by car trouble and find themselves seeking assistance at an ominous castle. Once inside, they discover a raucous party full of peculiar individuals who introduce their master – Dr Frank-N-Furter.

He invites the couple to stay and witness the birth of his recent experiment, a scientifically made man named Rocky (named so because of the rocks in his head). The couple stay the night and find themselves compelled by the seductions of Dr Frank-N-Furter, who spoils their naivety and innocence with his gothic seduction. Before long they are feather-bowered spectators to the unravelling secrets of the sweet transvestites from Transexual Transylvania.

Rocky Horror Show cast
Photo: David Freeman

The stage musical first opened in London in 1973, hosting just 60 seats. Within weeks the schlock-horror display jumped from the Royal Court to the Classic Cinema up to King’s Road Theatre and the West End, Rocky’s success is ceaseless.

Rocky’s return to Manchester did feature two cast changes from when I last saw the show. The Narrator, typically played by Philip Franks (The Darling Buds of May, Heartbeat) was instead played by his understudy – Reece Budin (La Cage Aux Folles). Previously, I had believed that Franks’ doses of resonant comedy between scenes were unrivalled, clearly, I had not yet witnessed the talent of Budin.

While I still credit Franks for delivering the better performance, Budin certainly challenged his talent. As the Narrator should, Budin played with the heckles and crude euphemisms of Rocky’s fanatics expertly. If you’re unoffended by satire comedy and risqué themes, then this play certainly knows how to comically poke at your snigger until you’re convulsing with laughter.

Brad, previously played by Strictly Come Dancing star Ore Oduba, is now performed by Richard Meek whom theatre advocates may recognise from starring as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat or Corny Collins in Hairspray. Meek’s delivery of Brad’s beguiling experience was comic and entertaining. However, I did find myself not as captivated by the character as I had been when Oduba played the role.

Meek’s solid performance did, however, highlight the talent of Haley Flaherty (Matilda, Chicago). While I don’t believe the chemistry was as strong as her performance with Oduba, her individual talent shone brighter. Her pitch-perfect vocals and timely facial expressions exhibited the flair rendered from performing a character since 2015.

Stephen Webb as Dr Frank-n-Furter. Photo: David Freeman

Rocky’s audience is saturated with acceptance, and community. It is alive in the fishnets of boomers who have been following the picture for years and exhibited by the red lipstick of Rocky first-timers. Stephen Webb’s Frank-n-Furter offers his queer home to Brad, Janet and the audience. Like them, we are seduced by the charm, music, costume and most prominently – the elation.

Everyone was up and out of their seats for all the major numbers – ‘Dammit Janet’, ‘Sweet Transvestite’, and, of course, ‘Time Warp’, to name but a few. The audience’s costumes were all in the show’s spirit and didn’t disappoint either, evidencing how the loyalty of The Rocky Horror Show fans never wavers.

I will forever be encouraging everyone, theatre lovers or haters, to have their anxiety dissolved by this invigorating, comforting cult classic.


The Rocky Horror Show plays at Manchester Opera House until February 25 before continuing its tour throughout 2023.

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