Who would have thought a small-scale musical production about an innocent couple who meet a charming but corrupting space alien in his gothic mansion would become one of the longest running shows of all time.
It’s been an astonishing 50 years since the show opened upstairs in the Royal Court Theatre, and all these years later raucous audiences are still coming along dressed up like mad scientist Frank-n-Furter, do the Time Warp and always determined to make the long-suffering Narrator’s life hell.
The show was also a cult movie starring the deliciously louche Tim Curry as Frank and the whole thing was the brainchild of New Zealander Richard O’Brien who played Riff Riff on the big screen.
What was your original 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 a 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, he liked the concept and away we went.
Why do you think it is still successful today, half a century later?
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 Frankfurter standing in for the wicked witch.
There’s been some controversy recently about people in the stalls singing along to songs, but The Rocky Horror Show is a show that feeds off audience participation.
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.
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 has the show developed over time? Have there been any adaptations in the past 50 years?
It has remained much the same through the years. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
The Rocky Horror Show is at Leeds Grand Theatre from 27th June until 1st July. To book www.leedsheritagetheatres.com or 0113 243 0808