REVIEW: Fishnet fever as The Rocky Horror Show returns to Grand Opera House, York

Suzy McAdam’s Magenta, Lauren Ingram’s Columbia, Haley Flaherty’s Janet Weiss, Ore Oduba’s Brad Majors and Kristian Lavercombe’s Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show. Picture: David Freeman

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or

RICHARD O’Brien’s schlock-horror rock’n’roll musical comedy sextravaganza was let loose on an unsuspecting world on June 19 1973 at the 63-seat Theatre Upstairs in London.

Fifty-nine years later, it has an undying cult status, one sustained in York on three-yearly pilgrimages to the Grand Opera House, where it plays to gleefully reunited devotees and wide-eyed new converts alike, breathlessly keen to undergo their rites of passage at O’Brien’s fantastical freak show.

Judged solely as a piece of musical theatre, it has been surpassed by Rent, Spring Awakening and Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, each better written and without the dip in quality of songs, momentum and storyline alike that nevertheless has never hindered Rocky Horror.

And yet, in our gender-fluid times, O’Brien’s musical has gained new wings with its themes of transvestism, freedom of self-determination and homosexuality, as well as the more timeless tropes of infidelity and loss of innocence.

Innocents abroad: Haley Flaherty and Ore Oduba as newly engaged Janet Weiss and Brad Majors. Picture: David Freeman

It does so with its tongue in its cheek, and everywhere else too, with its boldness in matters sexual and sartorial at odds with the global image of frigid, awkward, uptight Blighty, making it a kind of Weimar pantomime for adults.

Its story of a newly engaged, squeaky-clean American college couple, nerdy Brad Majors (Strictly champ Ore Oduba) and sweetheart Janet Weiss (Haley Flaherty) , losing their way in a storm and then their virginity under the seductive powers of castle-dwelling transvestite scientist, Dr Frank N Furter (Stephen Webb), is framed in a bravura send-up of horror and sci-fi B-movies., heightened by O’Brien’s raucous pastiche of Fifties’ rock’n’roll music.

In a show driven by song, set-piece, character and carnal pleasure, the plot can get away with being flimsy, with its unsubtle echoes of Frankenstein in Frank N Furter’s desire to create a new life in the form of the glitter-dusted, bodacious-bodied Rocky (Ben Westhead). What separates Rocky Horror from Rent, Spring Awakening and Priscilla is the glut of audience rituals that accompany performances.

In the city that loves to dress up for stag and hen parties and a Knavesmire day at the races, burlesque fancy dress is not only encouraged but pretty much obligatory, fishnets, pyjamas, Fifties’ waitress outfits and scientist coats, lipstick too, just as likely to be worn by men as women – and the ushers and usherettes too.

The Rocky Horror Show company at large on the 2022 tour

Rice, confetti, lighter flames and water pistols have been stripped from the audience’s repertoire of interjections by the safety mandarins, but now the lighters have made way for mobile phone torches, and the saucy shout-outs from the auditorium have become all the more prominent.

Indeed, they happen so much – usually orchestrated and time-honoured from shows past but still with room for the impromptu – that they are becoming like a procession. Oh, for some originality, please, York, in the off-the-cuff remarks, rather than inane crudity in the tradition of a drunken heckler.

To go with those audience customs is plenty of familiarity and continuity within the performing company – and indeed in the presence of Christopher Luscombe in the director’s chair once more for this typically swaggering production.

Kristian Lavercombe is clocking up his 2,000 performance as flesh-creeping servant Riff Raff on this tour; Haley Flaherty has plenty of mileage on her clock as prim prom queen-turned-minx Janet; Stephen Webb spun his “transsexual Transylvanian” Frank N Furter previously in York in 2019, and again he favours sensuality, grace and fruity decadence over camp excess.

Philip Franks: “Delicious devilry in his topical commentary”

The Narrator’s role – the lightning conductor to so much of the audience’s “scripted abuse” – has long been a celebrity vehicle, from the late Nicholas Parsons to comedian Steve Punt and the inevitable Stephen Fry. Now,  Royal Shakespeare Company actor, theatre director and television regular Philip Franks is renewing acquaintance with blue smoking jacket and fishnets for the 2022 tour.

He has the golden voice and unflappable air to the urbane manner born, coupled with a quick mind for acerbic retorts, a gift for mimicry and delicious devilry in his topical commentary, whether on Prince Andrew or when sending up Blood Brothers, the Liverpool musical soon to return to the Grand Opera House. He knows just when and how to indulge any over-excitable audience contributions, but the instincts, timing and flourishes of a circus ringmaster always keep him one step ahead.    

The pre-tour publicity has surrounded TV presenter Ore Oduba, whose Strictly Come Dancing triumph re-awakened his love for the stage from teenage days. After Teen Angel in Grease and Aaron Fox in Curtains, now he adds geeky American Brad Majors to his post-Strictly musical theatre repertoire. He sings with power, control and aplomb, applies just the right amount of caricature to his square character and looks the part in high heels, feather boas and underpants.

Bewildering to non-believers, like any cult, The Rocky Horror Show demands and rewards exuberant audience commitment from the Usherette’s first entrance, through Sweet Transvestite to The Time-Warp singalong finale, although a first-night altercation in the stalls was going too far over the top.  

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Ore Oduba: Highly entertaining in high heels in The Rocky Horror Show. Picture: Shaun Webb


Ore Oduba in fishnets and high heels? Oh yes, as Strictly champ plays college nerd Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show

Ore Oduba strikes a pose in the obligatory dress code for playing Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show. Fishnets? Tick? High heels? Tick. Picture: Shaun Webb

ACTOR, presenter and 2016 Strictly winner Ore Oduba will be donning his fishnets in Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show at the Grand Opera House, York, from March 14 to 19.

Delighted to be resuming his role as squeaky clean Brad Majors in Christopher Luscombe’s touring production from January to June, he says: “I’m so excited to be extending my stay with our amazing Rocky family. Truth is, when you know how it feels to wear a corset and heels, it’s very hard to take them off – at least it is in my case!

“It’s been a wild ride so far. This show is the perfect remedy to everything we’ve all been through. People want to laugh and be uplifted and to be able to forget about everything for a couple of hours. It’s all about ‘Leave your inhibitions at the door – we haven’t got time for that’.”

In O’Brien’s risqué and riotous 1973 sci-fi musical sextravaganaza, Oduba’s preppy Texas student Brad Majors and his college-sweetheart fiancée Janet Weiss (Haley Flaherty) inadvertently cross paths with mad scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter (Stephen Webb) and his outrageous Transylvanian coterie.

“I think there’s a lot of Brad in me and in a lot of people, ” says Ore Oduba

In a shock’n’roll sugar-rush of fruity frolics, frocks, frights and frivolity, Ore ends up in assorted states of undress. Previously seen on a Yorkshire musical theatre stage as swoon-inducing crooner Teen Angel in Grease, The Musical at Leeds Grand Theatre in July 2019, he signed up to play Brad from last summer, but not before he checked with his wife, television researcher Portia.

“It’s such an iconic show and so well loved, but I thought, ‘I wonder what my wife is going to say about audiences seeing me in stockings?’. I needn’t have worried because what I’d forgotten is that Rocky Horror is one of her and her family’s favourite shows of all time. She was beside herself!

“Then she started chuckling at the idea of me being on stage in just my briefs for the early part of the show, then coming out later in stockings and high heels.”

Ore’s nerdy Brad undergoes a spectacular shedding of inhibitions at the hands of Frank-N-Furter, “just a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania” as he calls himself. 

Given how Ore has gone from studying sports and social sciences at Loughborough University to presenting on Newsround, BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live and The One Show, to dancing  to Glitterball success with Joanne Clifton on Strictly Come Dancing, to musical theatre roles as Teen Angel and songwriter Aaron Fox in Curtains in the West End, he can connect with Brad’s transformation.

Ore Oduba as Teen Angel in Grease at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2019. Picture: Antony Robling

“I think there’s a lot of Brad in me and in a lot of people,” he says. “It’s the idea of being kind of caged animals, because we all have a lot of reservations and inhibitions and things we hold back. We’re just waiting to be unleashed.”

Not that his Strictly sparkle and burst of musical theatre roles came out of the blue. At 13, he won the school drama prize for his performance in the musical Seven Golden Dragons. “Then at secondary school I did every production under the sun,” recalls Ore, now 36. “It was only when I went to university that I turned my attention to broadcasting, but Strictly reminded me ‘Oh my gosh, I love being on stage’.

“On the surface, doing musical theatre now might seem like a big change-up but when I look back to where I felt happiest and most comfortable when I was younger, it was always on stage. In many ways it’s kind of what I always wanted to do. After Grease and Curtains, Rocky Horror is another step up in my so-far short musical theatre career and a lovely chance for me to do something liberating, fun and a little bit different.”

Ore has taken performing the signature song-and-dance routine The Time Warp in his stride, after continuing to dance since his Strictly triumph, both in the BBC show’s tours and in musicals. “I took up tap dancing too, although my wife and I then decided to renovate the house and turn the garage I was practising in into a kitchen,” he says.

Preppy but unprepared for what lies in store at deliciously, devilishly deviant Dr Frank-N-Furter’s castle: Ore Oduba’s Brad Majors and Haley Flaherty’s Janet Weiss. Picture: David Freeman

“So, I no longer have my tap space. Blame it on the kitchen! But every time I get to do something involving choreography, it gets me as excited as I was when I did Strictly. I love it.”

Wearing fishnets and high heels is altogether more over the top than anything he sported in tandem with Joanne Clifton on Strictly. “We did wear Latin heels but they’re not as high as the ones I have to wear in Rocky Horror,” says Ore.

“I remember the first time I was asked to wear something a little bit sheer on Strictly and I thought, ‘I don’t want to be too much of a show pony, I want it to be about dancing’. But by the time it came to the end, I was like, ‘You can put me in whatever you want’.”

Cue Frank-N-Furter doing exactly that to Ore’s Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show.

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show runs riot at Grand Opera House, York, from March 14 to 19; Monday to Thursday, 8pm; Friday, Saturday, 5.30pm and 8.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 7615. Fancy dress encouraged.

Copyright of The Press, York