Richard O’Brien on his Rocky Horror Show - 40 years on - as it comes to Cambridge

PUBLISHED: 17:17 03 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:30 04 July 2019

Richard O'Brien

Richard O'Brien


As the Rocky Horror show comes to Cambridge Arts Theatre from July 15-20, it’s creator, Richard O’Brien explains how the show he wrote when he was out of work, over 40 years ago became a world-wide success.

Richard O'Obrien was a new father and unemployed when he wrote The Rocky Horrow Show.

He says: "I was a recent father of my first child and out of work.

The year 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."

He added: "I have a very low-brow approach to life, I like populist kinds of themes, comics and rock'n'roll and B movies. The plot and dialogue for The Rocky Horror Show are raids on populist things, from advertising, from comics, from B movies, from sci-fi. It's a complete and utter raid upon all those elements; a joyous raid."

He says he would have loved to have played Dr Frank N Furter's monster, Rocky.

"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 does he feel about the show's success?

"I hope the show makes people feel a little bit better when they leave the theatre.

"I remember a director once told me, 'There's only one thing you should do in your life, Richard, and that's realise your dreams. A lot of people will try and stop you achieving those dreams but the only real person who can stop you is yourself.'

"I was young and he was old and it was the first time a grown-up had ever said anything so joyous to me, so wonderfully liberating. Everybody else said, 'Be careful, get a proper job, get your degree as a plumber. Don't get these lofty ideas.' As it says in the show, "Don't dream it, be it."

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And why does he think the show continues to be popular?

"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 a fairytale. We even like the nasty characters. We love the Cruella De Vil kind of character, Frank N Furter. The fact that it is such light-hearted naughtiness, combined with root fairy tales has a lot to do with its longevity.

He added: "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.

His advice for anyone seeing the show for the first time is to arrive with good will.

"I always worry that maybe the fans might steal the evening. I don't ever want the show to be just a few people having fun and the rest of the audience thinking that they've arrived at a party that they weren't invited to, so that's important.

And his favourite part of production?

"The noise at the end of Rocky is wonderful. It is empowering and exhilarating at the same time.

"When it was written, it didn't follow any kind of formula. The songs aren't showbizzy. With so many new musical numbers you hear now, if you didn't know what song it was you would instantly know it was a Broadway song. Rocky is a rock'n'roll show with a storyline on one level, it's a fairy tale on another level, and it's as enjoyable and silly as a Carry On film on another."

So what would his life have been like without Rocky?

"I have no idea but 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."

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