*of an appropriate age.
The Rocky Horror Show does not and should not take itself too seriously. Everyone’s favourite naughty musical is coming back to do another “lap in lippy” as Craig McLachlan, playing the ridiculous Dr Frank n Furter, calls it.
“Listen, I had a very curious conversation a few months ago with gravity. And gravity said: ‘your arse is still in pretty good nick, you’re holding up pretty well, Old Boy. What do you reckon we go out for one last hurrah?’ and I said ‘really? Another lap in lippy?’” McLachlan said.
According to McLachlan, gravity said: “Do it. Because when I approach you the next time, it might be time to say, ‘time for you to play the narrator’.”
Attending theatre isn’t something we do flippantly, it’s a financial investment. And yet, the show continues to sell out and have immense popularity through its almost-forty-five years.
“We did our little return season to Melbourne within six months of being here first time around. That’s unheard of these days. And honestly? We could’ve just taken up residency and just stayed there,” McLachlan said.
Personally, The Rocky Horror Show reinvigorated my love for theatre at age 20. My best friend and I attended five times, winning tickets twice and meeting Richard O’Brien, the creator of this massive cult hit. It gave us something to bond over. It was fun and childish and didn’t demand anything from the audience except to have a genuinely good time. Theatre doesn’t often do that.
The range of people in Rocky’s audience is astounding. From the three or four-year-old in the front row one night when I attended – and McLachlan made sure to interact with them – to unsuspecting grandparents.
McLachlan recounted a charming interaction with an older gentleman in Adelaide last time.
“I came out of stage door and there was a bunch of youngsters all dressed up, and I’m chatting to them all, we said our goodbyes and I’m just about to leave and a gentleman appeared, very smartly attired, I guess he would’ve been late 70s? Immaculately groomed and all the rest of it. Now, he didn’t know what Rocky Horror was.
“He saw that I was in The Rocky Horror Show – he was a big Doctor Blake fan – and figured that, a horror? It must be some sort of murder mystery play.
“He goes, ‘I – I I, um, saw an advertisement in the paper and thought, I’m a very big Doctor Blake fan, me and the children’ … I said, ‘well did you have a good time?’ and he went, ‘well I – I didn’t know quite what to expect, I thought it was going to be some sort of Mousetrap-like play’ and I said ‘ah, so perhaps not your thing?’ and he went ‘well, I absolutely loved it and I’ve booked tickets for the grandchildren, we’re coming next Saturday’.
“So the following Saturday, Kristian (playing Riff Raff) and I met all of his grandkids and kids who are all grown up, the grandkids are in their mid-teens now, and there he was. There’s this older gentleman, no idea what The Rocky Horror Show was, thought it was something else. He had the time of his life, walked straight to box office and bought tickets for all the kids. Great.”
So McLachlan’s back as Frank to give the people what they want. But what makes The Rocky Horror Show such a raging success? Can the show’s creator Richard O’Brien even explain it?
“I’ve attempted over the years and I’ve offered up various kind of reasons, but I think the fact of the matter is, no, I can’t, it’s a phenomenon,” O’Brien said.
“There is no good reason why this piece of childish juvenilia should have had forty-five years of continuing success and enjoyment. It just makes no sense.
“I think probably, I’ve attempted, but sometimes I think probably I’m getting a bit pretentious. I try to justify its longevity. I think maybe the childish nature of it is appealing.”
If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of it, you could argue that Rocky deals with issues of identity and being true to yourself, but O’Brien tends to leave that deeper analysis alone.
“The great thing about it is, you know, if you were a purist, you’d say ‘we need this to be more sensible and more real because you know, it’s a serious piece’. But it’s not. It’s a boulevard piece, it’s a piece of entertainment and it was never meant to be anything else other than entertainment,” O’Brien said.
“Craig is a natural show off and a natural performer, he’s a great craftsman, he’s not just somebody that wants to show off, he’s got his craft, he’s a brilliant musician, and he has great comedic skills, and he leaves a wake of happiness behind him.
“And Craig gives the audience a real satisfaction that the money they’ve spent on their ticket was well worth the money spent. They’re going to leave the theatre feeling better than they went in and think ‘that’s the best fucking ticket, the best theatre I’ve ever had for the best price ever’.”
Perhaps it’s the music that lets Rocky endure, McLachlan suggests.
“Even as a kid musically, and I was exposed to all sorts of great stuff through my brother and my parent’s collection, but musically? Just musically, I was just like ‘what is this?’. And as the years rolled on and certainly my own musical vocabulary expanded, I could hear Buddy Holly, I could hear all of Richard’s influences from the 50s coming through loud and clear in the music.
“Even with someone with my Duracell Battery Bunny energy being naughty and playing with the audience every night, you just wonder, what else you can bring. It’s not about bringing anything else to make the show better, we bring things to make it a bit different and bring some surprises.”
Perhaps it is the childish nature of the show that keeps us wanting more.
“There’s a child in each of us, we never lose that. And that’s part of Rocky’s appeal I think,” O’Brien said.
“We could bash that around for a long time, but the truth of the matter is, it’s lasted for forty-five years.”
Not only does it have that childish charm, it allows us to let our freak flags fly, no matter who we are.
“I was in Portsmouth (UK) once, sitting in the bar on the first level, of this modernistic building, concrete building,” O’Brien said,
“And there was a stairwell with concrete covers around it and away from me were the stairs, so I saw the heads coming up the stairs, and two very elegant women in their middle-age in their 50s, 55-60s, come out beautifully dressed, and two men in their tuxedos and grey hair and I thought ‘they’ve come to the wrong fucking show, haven’t they?’
“They came up and up and as I could just see over the top, the jackets, the tuxedos, these beautiful dresses, very elegant, very upper-middle-class kind of foursome, and they turn around the corner, and walk to us, and both the men had fishnets on.”
Shows like Rocky fall into some kind of other theatre category. You’re not going in for theatre, you’re going in for a show. It’s really just an evening of fun. It’s one of those naughty shows you go to and just have a brilliantly good time.
“It’s nice because before the curtain comes up, the hardened Rocky fans have started the party the minute they left work and got home, whipped into the bath, shaved their legs, did their make up and put their frock on,” O’Brien said.
“And then by the time they get to the theatre, meet their mates and have a drink together, that energy permeates its way to the other people who aren’t doing that but are there to see it and before the curtain goes up, the party’s started.”
Regardless of what the right mix of reasons is, The Rocky Horror Show is timeless. The best way to work out why it’s so well-loved is going and experiencing it for yourself, to give yourself over to absolute pleasure.
“Other naughty shows have come along and they’ve been fun, but they haven’t quite been Rocky,” McLachlan said.
“Rocky Horror was, I’m speaking for Richard, Rocky Horror was never meant to be that dark and intense from start to finish, it simply wasn’t. And if that’s what you gleaned from any other production you’ve seen, I’m glad I didn’t see that production because I wanted to walk out of the theatre punching the air, and thinking ‘I’ve just had the best night of my life’.
“I don’t think phenomenon is too bold a word really, because I’m amazed every time I step out on the stage.”
The Rocky Horror Show’s first performance for this tour is 28 December 2017 at the Adelaide Festival Centre before it tours to Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne in 2018. For information and tickets, visit http://rockyhorror.com.au