As The Rocky Horror Show reaches its half century, with a UK tour in 2023, we’re pleased to publish this interview with its creator Richard O’Brien.
What was your inspiration behind The Rocky Horror Show?
Someone asked me to entertain the Christmas staff party at the EMI Film Studios and so I wrote a song (Science Fiction Double Feature) and with the help of some jokes, performed to much laughter and applause.
In the New Year I wondered whether it might serve as as prologue to the germ of an idea that I had for a musical. I shared that thought with Jim Sharman who had directed Jesus Christ Superstar. Jim liked the concept and away we went.
Why do you think it is still successful today, half a century later?
It is simply a musical comedy and as long as it rocks, and the audience are laughing what more could you wish for?
It’s very inclusive, it’s very easy to watch. It’s not rocket science as far as narrative is concerned – Brad and Janet are a couple that we kind of recognise as Adam and Eve or Romeo and Juliet, like a stereotypical couple – we can all relate to them.
It is also a fairy tale which allows us to feel comfortable with its rites of passage storyline. A retelling of Hansel and Gretel if you like, with Frank-N-Furter standing in for the wicked witch.
The Rocky Horror Show creates an atmosphere that is different from other theatre shows. What about the show do you believe makes audiences feel comfortable joining in?
The innocent rather naughty fun of it draws not only a ‘theatre’ crowd but also people who want a fun evening and a guaranteed return on the investment of their ticket price.
What was happening in your life at the time you wrote The Rocky Horror Show?
I was a recent father of my first child and out of work when I wrote the show. 1972-73 was a moment of change. Glamrock and overt sexuality was around, gay people were coming out and there was a ‘buzz’ in the air. There are certain parts of the world where we are a little bit more free to be ourselves. London is certainly one of them. Back in the Seventies you had gay bars, but now you don’t need to because if you walk into most bars in London there will be a gay man behind the bar. That is rather nice.
How do you believe the show supports those who are questioning their identity or sexuality?
The support for the LBGT community was unintended but it is a very welcome addition to the laughter and toe tapping.
Has the show supported your own journey surrounding your identity?
It must have been, to some extent, cathartic but I have always gone my own way and played the cards that I was dealt at birth the best way that I can.
Do you have a favourite character?
I would have loved to have played Rocky, that would have been cool, wouldn’t it? But one thing is essential, you have to be rather handsome, and you know, muscular, and that ain’t going to work. I could have played Janet. They’re all so stupidly wonderful these characters, they’re iconographic.
How do you think the live shows compare to the film?
The live show has an energy that the movie doesn’t have – it wasn’t intentional, but the film was very slow. Once some fans came up to me and said, “did you leave the gaps between the lines so that we the audience could say our lines?”. I said, “Well, ok yes”. But no we didn’t. The movie is a very surreal, almost dreamlike journey, the live show is far more rock and roll.
What’s your favourite part of the show?
The noise at the end of Rocky is wonderful – it is empowering and exhilarating at the same time it is quite joyous. Rocky never fails to deliver. Each performance lifts the heart and the nightly laughter and roars of approval leave the whole cast with a sense of wellbeing and accomplishment that you rarely get from any other shows.
The Rocky Horror Show remains a huge hit around the world. Do you think the show would be as successful if written today?
Timing is very important as is luck. Zeitgeist sums it up. There are lots of variables in this equation, for instance, would it have been as successful if someone other than Tim Curry had played the lead?
How different do you think your life might have been without Rocky?
I have no idea but, I would have had a good life because I am made that way. My journey has been a different one than others. I guess some people have a game plan. I would imagine they’re rather humourless. Most of us get an opportunity and we wing it. Luck plays an awfully big part in our lives. You should never underestimate that. I am the luckiest person on the planet. I shall be happy as long as I can keep singing.
Thanks to the team at New Theatre, Cardiff for providing this interview. The Rocky Horror Show plays at the New Theatre 10-15 April 2023 as part of its 50th anniversary tour.
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