I have never seen an Auckland audience react in quite the way they responded to Richard O’Brien’s entrance in the recent season of Rocky Horror Show at the Civic. Richard strides on, dazzling in a Gaultier denim coat tails, opens his mouth to utter the Narrator’s immortal line “I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey...", but the audience wouldn't let him speak!
We clapped, cheered and hollered, on end… here was the Richard O’Brien, a kiwi made good, (damn what immigration say), finally bringing his world-famous cult show home. The man who wrote ‘The Time Warp’ and originated the role of Riff Raff, had to raise his hands and settle the audience down. He seemed overwhelmed, his “Thankyou”, genuine. Richard was home.
Rocky Horror was the audience experience of last year. The audience was filled with Riff Raffs, Frank-N-Furters, Columbias, Magentas and Transylvanians of all kinds. Everyone was ready to party. Some came ready for audience participation, made famous by the late night Rocky Horror film screenings. Newspapers were lifted over heads when Brad and Janet got out of the car in ‘There’s a light’, and flashlights were at a ready when the song hit the chorus. Rice was thrown repeatedly throughout the show, often landing in my shirt!
Rocky Horror virgins would have been forgiven for wondering what strange disease had taken over the Civic… we were acting so unlike normal Auckland theatre audiences and actually having fun! By the end of Opening Night the entire audience was doing up doing the Time Warp with Richard and cast. The second time I ventured to the show, a late night Friday performance, made opening night look like we were under sedation. There were even more whacky costumes, even more participators, and it only took as long as the first few lines of the first Time Warp before all of us were jumping to the left in the aisles.
Juan Jackson, an operatically trained African American, was not a typical choice for Frank-N-Furter – there was little trace of Curry Camp, and his muscle tones made Rocky look rather puny in comparison - but he was a bold and original take that grew on me substantially. New Zealand’s own Kristian Lavercombe more than rose to the challenge of performing a very droll Riff Raff alongside the show’s creator. And Richard was… Richard. Delivering it straight, he revelled in being onstage, and rocked out with an electric guitar for the finale.
There was something delightful too about how simple the staging was – levels were achieved by ladders that moved across the stage, Brad and Janet’s car were pushed by the ‘Phantoms’ and different sized models of Frank-N-Furter’s house showed us we were getting closer to the debauchery. The producers of this version of Rocky wanted to get closer to the original production, without the bells and whistles and extra jokes that had been added over the years, where it debuted at the Royal Court’s ‘Theatre Upstairs’ to an audience of 62 in 1973.
Rocky Horror, of course, should never have worked on paper. The narrative – about a newly engaged couple getting trapped in the house of a sexually liberated alien –is admittedly bizarre. The show isn’t very long. Just as it gets itself going, interval hits. But the stage show, and the film, tapped into something that saw it running and running. It seemed to offer outsiders, with the message ‘Don’t Dream it, be it’, a place and community to belong to and be themselves. Richard theorises it’s about the show’s root mythologies. Certainly for me, I always saw it as being something very special, and while it may not be the best… it is hands down my favourite musical. Kristian Lavercombe, when I interviewed him, reckoned “ It teaches you basically to be yourself no matter what other people think, and I think that’s why it has been so popular over the years because it challenges you to stand up for who you are and be different, and to be proud to be different.”. Rocky Horror is of course so utterly mainstream these days years that a whole episode of TV’s megasmash Glee was devoted to it, and they even released their own (censored) album of the show’s songs.
I had the fortune of meeting Richard at the show’s afterparty. Everyone wanted a piece of him. A lady was trying to sell him on the merits of the electronic cigarette. Rocky’s brilliant publicist and Magenta look-alike Sandra Roberts gave me an introduction. Richard self-deprecating played down the experience. He thought Opening Night had gone well, but his role hadn’t been much – he just stood where the director told him to stand. He signed my programme, with a devilish look in his he defaced the cover like a naughty school, making Janet an Angel and Brad a devil. I asked if it would be kosher to give him a hug, he was amused. I did so, and couldn’t help myself giving him a quick kiss on his wonderfully shiny head as I thanked him one last time. In that moment my professionalism had all but given out to fan boyism, but how else can you thank the original creator of the Rocky Horror show? I wasn’t about to break into the Time Warp in front of him that’s for sure!
A month before I met him in person, I rang Richard in his house in London and had a very in-depth interview with him. It was late for me, early in the morning for him. He had just finished looking over last night’s crossword, trying to solve the last clues. He hoped that his interview wouldn’t send me to sleep. There was no danger to that.