‘No sign of slowing down’: Richard O’Brien on The Rocky Horror Show

The Rocky Horror Show has a mind of its own says its creator Richard O’Brien. No matter the age it’s played in, the show “finds new and younger audiences who have just as much fun as we did 45 years ago”.

Ever since its debut in 1973, The Rocky Horror Show has delighted, horrified and inspired audiences across the globe. The 1975 Rocky Horror Picture Show film adaptation might stick in people’s minds, but the stage performance has toured consistently right up until this year, and is set to play the newly renovated Adelaide Festival Centre for two weeks starting this month.

“When it runs out of steam and the public no longer want it, then it’s time to let it go and let it become a piece of historical theatre,” O’Brien says. “But at the present time it shows no sign of slowing down.”

O’Brien puts part of Rocky Horror’s success at the feet of his own childish approach to theatre. Noting that when Tim Curry was asked of O’Brien’s age, he said he was “31 going on 13,” O’Brien explains that the secret to his hilariously vulgar script was an adolescent fearlessness in the power of what he was creating.

“He [Curry] was absolutely right since maturity was never my strong suit,” he says. “I was still that 13 year-old-boy in his room drawing a comic, you know, writing a screenplay. It’s probably derivative as hell and not terribly original, but when you’re 13 you don’t care. I still have that rather lovely childish, amateur approach to what I do.”

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Craig McLachlan as Frank N Furter with Richard O’Brien

Also key to Rocky Horror’s longevity is the way the show mixes that unbridled immaturity with more meaningful themes, says O’Brien.

“It straddles a strange tightrope between the frothy ephemeral piece of nonsense, and something deeply meaningful, so consequently it survives by walking that rope,” he says.

Frequently cited as a touchstone for people of diverse, sometimes marginalised sexualities, Rocky Horror also has a special place in the public eye for helping drive the wider embrace of non-straight relationships and non-conformity in general.

That wasn’t the intention when he wrote it, O’Brien says, but he is delighted this “happy accident” has served to help change attitudes.

“I think it’s had a profound effect — unintentionally so — on people’s approach to their own sexuality, or their feeling of isolation. The letters I’ve had and people who’ve spoken to me over the years, saying how much it’s helped them come to terms with their own confused sexuality has been wonderful. Stephen Fry is a big fan of the show and he thinks that it’s terribly important, and has been important in the changes of attitudes in the world in general. That’s always very lovely to hear.”

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Asked whether our present-day situation compares to the views of the ‘70s when he wrote Rocky Horror, O’Brien says that he believes the world is perpetually mad. It’s not something that can simply be explained as a jump to the left, nor a step to the right.

“The great gift of life is to be born into a race of sentient beings. The downside of that is we’re all fucking crazy. The entire world is mad. We’ve got Trump in the White House, people with beards telling little boys and girls to strap a bomb on themselves and go to paradise — what a load of shite… Yet inside this race of sentient beings, there is an oasis of hope. And that oasis of hope is that rationality will win over the plausible and delusion.

“I hope that rationality will win out and that we’ll live in a wonderful world of secular rationality of joy and pleasure and intelligence and wisdom but you know, I don’t think that’s going to happen, do you?”

Richard O’Brien won’t be playing in this performance, with Peter Goers assuming the narrator’s role in selected performances, but he’s not averse to slipping back into this darkly sequined story when he gets the chance.

“It’s almost like sitting on the side of the bed and reading a bedtime story to your children, because it is a fairy tale after all, you see,” he says.

The Rocky Horror Show
Adelaide Festival Centre
December 28 until January 13
adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au