There is something magic in every production of The Rocky Horror Show. Richard O’Brien’s legendary exploration of queer identity through the lens of intergalactic hedonistic party animals is an ode to B-movies, rock and roll, and LGBTQ2s+ culture. It was unprecedented for its era and has stood the test of time half a century later. In a glorious return after closure after closure, Halifax’s Neptune Theatre has presented a spellbinding production of the classic. And with one foot on the throttle, one hand on its heart, and the rest under the covers, Neptune Theatre’s Rocky Horror is going to give you some terrible thrills.
Directed by Neptune’s artistic director Jeremy Webb, what is evident from the get-go is that this is a production of The Rocky Horror Show, not a carbon copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Perhaps a slight distinction, but a pitfall that so many companies leap into. Webb instead has harnessed the energy that makes the material so impactful and has had his creative team run with it. There is evidence of great care for the emotional underpinnings of the story in Neptune Theatre’s Rocky Horror, and a recognition that as hilarious and titillating as the content is, there is also a profound sense of loneliness beneath the makeup.
Visually the production is captivating in so many simple but surprising ways. This is often the result of set designer Andrew Cull and lighting designer Leigh Ann Vardy having their work intertwine gloriously. From the use of a disco ball and spotlights during “Once In A While” to the stunning look of a tinsel curtain falling as light catches it, the synergy of elements always appeals. And Helena Marriott’s costumes traverse the space these elements create beautifully—a winning combo of the iconic styles from early productions of the show as well as unique takes on aspects of the aforementioned styles, such as Columbia in a gloriously golden garment ringing of her iconic tuxedo jacket.
Avery Jean Brennan’s musical direction shows a precise and focused hand while still exhibiting the freedom of flourish from individual performers in their songs. Within such a renowned musical context, it can be all the more difficult to not step into the overwrought territory of recreating the phrasing and tone of the film’s soundtrack, but Brennan shows their experience and confidence through their choices. The music of the production is amplified by its neighbouring sound design by Aaron Collier, who also leads the projection design of the production which lends an immediate sense of science fiction to the stage.
What would Rocky Horror be without its deliciously depraved motley crew though? It goes without saying that a production of this much heart has selected a fantastically talented group to deliver the show. Breton Lalama is a tickling oddity of energy and skulking as Riff Raff; Kaleigh Gorka’s Columbia is adamant, expressive, and a rollercoaster of emotion; Zach Faye holds a depth of feeling that bubbles up from underneath the stoic veneer that is Brad Majors. But, to speak personally, Allister MacDonald’s Frank N. Furter is the greatest live performance I’ve seen of the iconic character. The chaotic impulse of his mind, the scientific fascination of his endeavours, the insatiable drive to share in pleasure, and, above all, the pure sadness that is pushed down deep into Frank’s soul—all aspects that make a great Frank are here in abundance, and will have you seeing blue skies through the tears in your eyes.
Neptune Theatre’s Rocky Horror is as strong a returning production as any company could wish for. An energetic and passionate dive into legendary waters, there is a great amount of love evident in this staging. From the stellar performances of the cast to the inspired choices of the production team, Neptune has accomplished more than just doing the Time Warp again—they have tapped into what I have always seen as the true core of Rocky Horror:
“Rose tint my world. Keep me safe from my trouble and pain.”