Richard O’Brien on The Rocky Horror Show in Edinburgh

The Rocky Horror Show
The Rocky Horror Show
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‘IT’S just a jump to the left, and then a... flight to the other side of the world.”

Not quite the lyrics Richard O’Brien sang when he first encouraged a generation to do the Time-Warp back in 1973, yet strangely appropriate.

Yes, the man responsible for the cult phenomenon that is The Rocky Horror Show is emigrating to New Zealand, where, if his wife has her way, he will live out his life “chopping wood and painting fences!”

The timeless 70-year-old laughs, “For the last 15 years we’ve been dreaming of moving to New Zealand, where we shall put our roots down. But I wasn’t prepared to leave without knowing that my children were okay, and now they are.

“My youngest is 24, and she has a lovely boyfriend and a nice little apartment to live in, and her brother’s just around the corner, so I feel quite happy about leaving them here.”

With a laugh, he adds, “However, I will be back and forward to keep a check on the country, just to see that it’s still running properly.”

Born in Cheltenham, O’Brien is no stranger to New Zealand. At the age of nine his family emigrated there, not returning to the UK until 1964, by which time he was 22.

Nine years later, he unleashed The Rocky Horror Show on an unsuspecting world and a cult was born. It’s a cult that celebrates its 40th anniversary next week at The Playhouse, where a brand new cast will once again bring the tale of the Sweet Transvestite, from the planet Transexual in the distant galaxy of Transylvania, to life.

Looking back, O’Brien, who also fronted the popular Channel 4 game-show The Crystal Maze, admits a sense of amazement at the show’s enduring popularity.

“Every day is a surprise, isn’t it? When you wake up and find it’s a new day. When you’re young, you just take it for granted, but at my end of the journey, everyday is a surprise, and so it was with Rocky.

“We were only supposed to run for three weeks, instead the first run in London lasted seven years. Once it got past seven years, and continued to go on, I kept being amazed by it. Strangely, it’s been a sustained amazement. Every time it goes out and people are laughing and having a good time watching it, I am just thrilled.”

The musical, which boasts ‘rude parts’, tells the story of Brad Majors and his fiancée Janet Weiss, two squeaky clean college kids on their way to visit their former college professor, Dr Scott.

When their car breaks down outside the mansion of alien transvestite Dr Frank ’n’ Furter, their lives will never be the same again.

West End star Oliver Thornton dons the basque and stilettoes of Dr Frank ’n’ Furter, while ex-EastEnder Sam Attwater and former Emmerdale star Roxanne Pallet are Brad and Janet.

X Factor’s Rhydian bares almost all in the golden trunks of Rocky (until Wednesday) and Philip Franks, best known for his roles in The Darling Buds of May and Heartbeat, is the Narrator. Directed by Christopher Luscombe and bursting with cheeky costumes and outrageous innuendo, this latest production has the usual mix of science-fiction, horror, comedy and music and, of course, audience participation.

All the show’s now famous songs are there too. Songs like Science Fiction/Double Feature, Dammit Janet and, of course, the floor-filler that is The Time-Warp.

First performed on 19 June 1973, at London’s Royal Court Theatre, stars such as Tim Curry, Russell Crowe, Jerry Springer and Meatloaf have all appeared in Rocky over the last four decades.

In 1974 it was transformed into the longest running theatrical release in film history, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The stage-play, meanwhile, has now been seen in more than 30 countries and translated into more than 20 languages.

Over the years it has visited all the Capital’s major theatre. Darren Day played Frank ’n’ Furter at The King’s. Jason Donovan played the same role at the Festival Theatre. Bobby Crush even played it at The Playhouse where, in 1992, for one night only, O’Brien eschewed his signature role, Riff Raff, in favour of the far more flamboyant Frank ’n’ Furter.

“I remember that night,” he laughs. “I remember that, when I said to Rocky ‘I’ll pull your plug out,’ the audience all went ‘BOO!’ So I turned around and said, ‘Shut the f*** up you tartan toga tuggers...’

“As soon as I said it, I thought, ‘Where did that come from? That was a bit brave’.

“I used to go on for the producers if we had a very soft date, where, for whatever reason, we might not get out of Dodge breaking even.

“The first time they asked me to make an appearance I said, ‘If you want me to, let me play Frank, because I want to have more fun than anyone else on stage.’

“Our Franks at the time didn’t necessarily like me coming in to play the role, but you can understand that. And it was only to help out. Never for my own selfish reasons, narcissism or exhibitionism.”

The rumour at the time was that, having already played Riff Raff, O’Brien intended to work his way though every part in the show... including the virginal Janet.

“I was a little long in the tooth for Janet,” he exclaims, bellowing with laughter, “and certainly, nobody would like to see me running around the stage in a pair of little gold briefs as Rocky. They’d have brought the curtain down on me.”

Like many shows, Rocky has had a chequered history and, for a period of time in the 80s, O’Brien lost control of his creation, only regaining the rights in 1990 when he teamed up with Howard Panter, head of the Ambassadors Theatre Group, the owners of The Playhouse.

It is Panter that O’Brien credits with much of the show’s current ongoing success.

“Howard’s involvement has been essential,” he explains. “Without his business acumen and knowledge of the theatre, I don’t know what would have happened.

“Producing is an art form. A lot of actors and artists think that producers are nothing but a lot of money-bent scumbags, but that is so far from the truth.

“Having the taste to pick shows, to nurture them, to find the money for them... balancing so many balls in the air is a wonderful art form. So having Howard on board has been priceless. We’ve been able to decide who gets the show; where it goes; and then put in some safety nets.

“We were allowed to watch rehearsals, make comments, and actually have something to do with the casting if we wished. Not that we have ever imposed our wishes in an arbitrary fashion, but we do have those rights.

“Consequently we make sure that the quality of the show stays good all the time.”

Despite being more than 11,000 miles away next week when the Rocky opens in Edinburgh, one can’t help feeling O’Brien will still be present at The Playhouse, in spirit, anyway.

“The world is a small place, so I’ll stay in touch.”

The Rocky Horror Show, The Playhouse, Greenside Place, Monday-Thursday, 8pm, Friday & Saturday, 5.30pm & 8.30pm, £10-£37.50, 0844-871 3014