Rocky Horror legend Richard O'Brien is back, still refusing to make eye contact with the Grim Reaper - Liam Rudden
As the dearth of new live theatre continues due to Covid-19, so too does my search for new drama to keep me entertained. One person I’ve always considered a consummate story-teller is Rocky Horror Show creator and all round legend, Richard O’Brien.
At the age of 78 years young, the cult figure, who has changed little since his days Time-Warping as Riff Raff or skipping from room to room on Channel Four’s Crystal Maze, is back in a brand new audio drama, The Barren Author.
It’s a rare opportunity to hear O’Brien (who says he “refuses to make eye-contact with the Grim Reaper”) in an acting role now that he has settled back in his homeland, New Zealand. Indeed, the last time I saw him on stage was as The Narrator in 2015 in The Rocky Horror Show on London’s West End, even then he only did a limited run of 11 performances. Before that, it was in Mephistopheles Smith, his 2007 one-man show, which opened at the Fringe although I caught it in the Glasgow’s Kings, while a couple of years earlier I saw him in panto as the Spirit of the Mirror, in Milton Keynes. There’s just something quite mesmeric about O’Brien’s live performances, a dangerous energy that is vicariously engaging.
My regret is that I never managed to see him as the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang around the same time, but can just imagine how sinister he would have been, I’m sure he would have given the great Robert Helpmann a run for his money.
There’s little sinsiter about the role he takes on in his new six-part audio comedy-drama inspired by the fantastical stories of Baron Munchausen, in which he joined by Sophie Aldred, best known as companion to Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor Who, Ace.
O’Brien plays The Brigadier who, in the new normal, is relating his adventures in a series of sessions via video calls to the mysterious Smith, played by Aldred.
But is she all she says she is, and what - in fact - is she? A publisher, a psychiatrist, or in league with forces of evil?The original Munchausen stories about a fictional German nobleman were written by Rudolf Erich Raspe and first appeared in 1785 in the loquaciously entitled book, Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia. It regaled readers with the eccentric’s impossible achievements as sportsman, soldier and traveler, including riding on a cannonball, fighting a 40-foot crocodile, and travelling to the Moon.The Barren Author, by Paul Birch, adds more chapters to the character’s outrageous exploits and embraces the satirical, provocative and absurd spirit of the original while re-imagining it as a radio drama for the year of the pandemic.
The result is a bonkers and frequently head-scratching tale of nonsensical nobility and derring do that allows O’Brien free reign to explore his larger than life creation in his own unique way and as the tales become ever more fantastical, even that description errs on understatement, as the actor plays it up without abandon.
Released by Spiteful Puppet, The Barren Author is available now priced £3.99 each episode or you can buy all six for £19.95 via www.spitefulpuppet.com