The Rocky Horror Show, Playhouse Theatre, London <!-- none onestar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Rocky Horror fans are different from other theatre-goers, and I don't just mean the men in corsets. When I took out my notepad, the woman next to me asked: "Are you reviewing...?" I nodded. There was a pause while the broken circuit re-connected: "... this?"

A lot of blood has flowed over the dam since the dawn of Richard O'Brien's musical satire of sexual convention and cheap science fiction movies. First staged in 1973 at the Royal Court, the show - recently voted the theatre's most seminal work (perhaps the adjective was taken literally) - was then made into a film that has liberated multitudes to laugh at such daring mockery, and to shout and throw loo rolls at the screen. A Broadway revival in 2000 had a decent run but the work's initial failure there in 1975 still embitters its creator, who blames the contempt he was shown on New York's hostility to London imports and "intellectuals who prefer Neil Simon".

Who, though, can laugh in a time when Simon's sitcoms might indeed be regarded as highbrow by our school leavers, and the Rocky regulars' assaults on the unresponsive actors could be a metaphor for our government's indifference to a public maddened by its deceit and incompetence? One doesn't need to reflect that the more recent favourite of the masquerading movie shouters is the rather different Sound of Music to feel that this tale of an artificial man brought to brief, unhappy life is not in step with the current beat.

The mechanical nature of Christopher Luscombe's production, then, is all too appropriate - and may be what its devotees prefer. But I liked the spontaneity of Suzanne Shaw as the enthusiastically violated virgin and the more refreshing Rocky of Julian Essex-Spurrier, his vivacious acrobatics offset by a sad sweetness. Even so, the proceedings are dominated by the steam-rolling presence of David Bedella as Frank 'n' Furter.

Matthew Cole, as the wholesome student, makes his character less comic by mocking him and assuming an ostensible US accent that sounds like a speech impediment. Steve Pemberton is initially droll as the narrator but then abandons his own character to ingratiate himself with the audience. In this time-warped world, everyone has to be loved by everyone else, no matter how unadvisable this may be.

To 22 July, then touring. 08700 606 631; www.theambassadors.com

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