Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O’Brien is rejoining the hit musical for a series of special shows playing the narrator, his first UK performances in the role for more than 20 years.
He will appear at London’s Playhouse Theatre between 11-19 September.
A celebrity gala show will also be broadcast live in cinemas.
“I’m looking forward to it,” O’Brien told the BBC. “I love the laughter of the show. I love the noise of approval and laughter, it’s just so joyous.”
The rock and roll musical, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013, first debuted at London’s Royal Court Theatre. O’Brien, who originally played Riff Raff, later adapted it into the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show with director Jim Sharman.
It starred Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as sweethearts Janet and Brad, who get caught up in a storm and end up at the home of mad transvestite scientist Frank N Furter (played by Tim Curry) and his new creation Rocky Horror.
The new West End performances come ahead of a nationwide tour kicking off in Brighton in December, with the live gala show on 17 September.
O’Brien spoke to the BBC from his home in New Zealand about The Rocky Horror Show’s enduring appeal – and the crowdfunding campaign to bring back his ’90s game show, The Crystal Maze.
Why do you think Rocky Horror is still so 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.
Do you have a favourite character or part of the show?
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.
The story is already a film, but are you excited about the gala screening being broadcast in cinemas?
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 advice do you have for any Rocky Horror ‘virgins’?
None – just come with an open heart and a good will or not at all. 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.
You’ve got a new cast starting in Brighton in December – Diana Vickers, Ben Freeman and Paul Cattermole from S Club 7 – how do you think they’ll do?
I’m out of touch with young British actors – I’m very old anyway – I’m out of touch with young musicians. Music up to the late ’80s I’m ok with, but you know ’90s and recent music, I’m pretty stuck. Delegation – allowing people the due respect to do their jobs is essential. You have to learn to step away.
Fox recently announced a live TV production of Rocky Horror, with High School Musical’s Kenny Ortega overseeing it all – are you involved?
I don’t understand any of that. I get nothing out of the movie, I don’t want to bang on about it – never complain, never explain, is very good advice. There’s no incentive for me to be excited or interested. I know it works for Fox and it works for one particular producer, but the rest of it doesn’t work at all, it’s not nice.
We seem to be having more open conversations about gender these days with people like Caitlyn Jenner shining a light on the issue – The Rocky Horror Show was ahead of its time in terms of attitudes to gender wasn’t it?
Yes, it wasn’t something that we ever thought about, but the fact that it made the climate warmer for people who feel marginalised and lost in their journey as far as gender is concerned, it is kind of wonderful Rocky helped people in that way.
I got an email the other day from a little girl who lived across the road from me here in New Zealand – she was about 13 when I met her, she’s now 22 – and she said: “I’m so grateful because you’ve allowed me to come to terms with my own gender identity by living life the way you did and being the way you were.” Rocky’s done that.
Are you working on anything new at the moment ?
I’m writing some songs for a little musical with Richard Hartley, my musical compadre. It’s about a girl that goes to the land of the dead and she’s still alive – it’s called Alive on Arrival. No idea whether it’s got any legs on it, but I’m enjoying fiddling around with some words. The truth of the matter is I write songs and I put them in the drawer – it’s kind of cathartic just writing it in the first place.
There’s recently been a huge crowdfunding campaign to bring The Crystal Maze back as an immersive theatre experience in London. It hit 185% of its target – were you surprised by the love for that show?
It does sound rather wonderful – it almost sounds unbelievably wonderful. I think I’m going to be virtual Rick – they’re going to film me saying “welcome here”, “do that” and “oh, that’s not very good”.
I really did enjoy doing that show, I did that for four years. I was supposed to do [another quiz show] Fort Boyard, off the coast of La Rochelle in France – we did a pilot for it and the French people said, “ah but yes, the fort will not be ready”. So they went into a room together for a couple of days and came up with The Crystal Maze, which was the better show – the other was a stodgy kind of cake as they’d spent so much time over it.
There were four zones – Aztec, Futuristic, Medieval and Industrial – did you have a favourite?
I loved Aztec Zone – I always wanted to be in the Aztec Zone. We shot it in the middle of winter in an aircraft hanger which was unheated and freezing, bitterly cold. So every time I got to Aztec I kind of liked it because the lights came on and I thought, “oh well at least it looks warm.” It wasn’t.