Richard O’Brien on his legendary rock ‘n’ roll musical The Rocky Horror Show

Richard O’Brien’s legendary rock ‘n’ roll musical celebrates 50 years of non-stop partying with a special anniversary production. The former Crystal Maze, host is enthusiastic as ever about the musical, which is dancing its way onto the Belfast stage this August.

The Rocky Horror Show celebrates 50 years of fun
The Rocky Horror Show celebrates 50 years of fun The Rocky Horror Show celebrates 50 years of fun

The Rocky Horror Show is the longest continuous run of a contemporary musical anywhere in the world. Featuring songs such as Damn it Janet and Time Warp, it tells the story of two squeaky clean college kids – Brad and his fiancée Janet.

After their car breaks down outside a creepy mansion, they meet the charismatic Dr Frank’n’Furter. It is an adventure they’ll never forget, filled with fun, frolics, frocks, and frivolity.

Richard, 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. Jim liked the concept and away we went.

Why do you think it is still successful today, half a century later?

It is simply a musical comedy and, as long as it rocks, and the audience are laughing, what more could you wish for? 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, like Adam and Eve or Romeo and Juliet, and 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. The Rocky Horror Show creates an atmosphere that is different from other theatre shows.

What about the show do you believe makes audiences feel comfortable joining in?

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, and 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.

Do you have a favourite character?

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 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. 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 show.

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.

How different do you think your life might have been without Rocky?

I have no idea but I would have had a good life because I am made that way. My journey has been a different one than others. I guess some people have a game plan. I would imagine they’re rather humourless. Most of us get an opportunity and we wing it. 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.

The Rocky Horror Show runs at Belfast’s Grand Opera House from August 7 – 12. Tickets at Goh.co.uk.