Page updated Monday, September 12th, 2011
The making of Rocky Horror (Full Gory Details)
Richard O'Brien and Richard Hartley at the South Bank
Sunday 4th September 2011
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Billed as the 'cosiest venue' within the Southbank centre in London, the Purcell Room seats only 365 in its intimate auditorium. This makes it perfect for events such as readings, lectures and what certainly felt like sitting down in the company of Richard O'Brien and Richard Hartley to share a bottle of wine and have a natter (except that Mr O'B kept the bottle and glass to himself!). The two Richards were ably steered through nearly two hours of the history of our favourite obsession by Benjamin Louche. I've never come across him (oo-er. Ed) but he's clearly a fan and had done his Rocky history homework.
RO'B, resplendent in a long pink dress, pale pink cardigan and pearl necklace, talked about his Damascene moment with 'the devil's music'. During his teenage years in New Zealand, he was invited one day into a record shop by a friend who worked there , “and the first thing I hear is Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' full blast "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop a-lop-bam-boo", he yelled. "I was hooked! Elvis was The King, but Little Richard was the Queen". He then talked us through the many and various other things he'd loved during his younger years which are so palpable as influences in Rocky and we enjoyed a cheesy clip of Steve McQueen's acting in 'The Blob'.
Richard Hartley talked about how he had also been influenced by similar music and that the basic 3 chord structure (which was how RO'B wrote pretty much everything) is classic to rock 'n' roll. He cited many direct influences on Rocky's music, "there's a bit of Del Shannon in there" and remarked, smilingly, that they'd recorded the entire soundtrack for the Picture Show in 4 days - "the drummer and the guitarist were from Procul Harum and we had to work fast with them in the mornings because their roadies would turn up at lunchtime with their drugs". We were informed that songs such as Eddie's Teddy and Toucha-toucha were written overnight when RO'B was under pressure to expand the original idea (written 'on a few sheets of fooscap' according to Hartley) and to provide a song to do justice to Julie Covington's voice. There was some debate about the reasons why Superheroes was cut from the initial movie edit – Hartley talked about the much slower pace of the movie and some of the songs compared to the stage show – and why Once In A While didn't make the cut ("it's the only retrospection in the movie so didn't feel right, although we were toying with the idea of inter-cutting it with the shots of Janet straying" said RO'B).
The chat was interspersed with some video footage. We were treated to Frank's entrance in the Picture Show and RO'B was generous in his comments about Tim. "How lucky were we to get Tim in that role?", he mused, "Originally I had another actor in mind but he couldn't do it. However, if we hadn't had Tim I'm not sure that Rocky would have gone on to be as famous as it is". We were shown a teasing glimpse of Barry Bostwick in the Rocky-themed episode of Cold Case and, to much amusement in the audience, we watched RO'B's reaction to the Rocky Horror Glee Show's version of Sweet T. Whilst Hartley had seen it and seemed impressed by the female who portrayed Frank ( "She really has a great voice"), RO'B was incredulous at the change of lyrics and accused the Americans of being hypocritically puritanical.
Asked to explain the show's longevity, RO'B pointed out that many simply look upon Rocky as a great rock musical, with some weird stuff thrown in. However, the basic story-line has universal appeal, he said, because it is a classic 'coming-of-age' tale that shares many similarities with the sagas, fairy stories and fables that are told across generations. "It's a bit like Babes In The Wood or the story of Hänsel and Gretel encountering the wicked witch in the dark forest", he said. Of the "overnight success....two years later" of the movie, he recalled walking past a couple of Americans in a hotel and hearing one of them say, "Look dear, Riff Raff"; "I hoped they were referring to the movie" quipped Richard.
Asked about their work since Rocky, RO'B stated that he felt that the songs in Shock Treatment were better than the ones he wrote for Rocky, while at the same time admitting that his acting in that movie was his worst ever. He seemed pleased that he'd foreseen both a major genre known as reality TV as well as the wannabe culture but he conceded that it was probably wrong to have used the characters of Brad and Janet in such a way. This led to the key question of the evening – what about the much-mooted 'proper' sequel to Rocky, known to many as Revenge of the Old Queen? RO'B was quite candid about this. Harking back to the sources for Rocky's genesis, he was intrigued by the idea of the monster rising from the dead. He also wanted Brad & Janet to continue their journey as characters. He admitted that both Richards had completed Act 1 and were happy with it but he was stuck on Act II, and had been for a long time. "Any ideas?" he teased the audience but he was clear on one thing, "I'd rather do nothing at all than do it badly". Hear hear to that.
We had time for some questions from the audience and Viscount Edward of Marlowe was keen to know what was happening with The Stripper. From their responses it was clear that both Richards were very happy with this musical but RO'B felt that its time had not yet come, since it didn't tick the genre boxes of either a collection of hits or an epic. Another question asked him to expand on the role of John Sinclair (who happened to be the questioner's cousin!). We were told that John founded SARM studios where the first cast recording was made. This reviewer can add that John was the boyfriend of Belinda Sinclair (the first recorded Janet, Belinda took over the role from Julie Covington ) at the time. RO'B chided the final questioner, a self-confessed transvestite, for not wearing a frock but, in his response to the query about what research he had done for Rocky on cross-dressing / transgender issues, he was open about his personal experiences. Through Rocky, he said, he managed not only to incorporate his personal characteristics and fascinations but also to find a sense of liberation. He drew a round of applause when he observed that, whilst it hadn't been his intention, he was delighted if Rocky helped others to realise their own completion, liberation and confidence.
We rounded off the evening with Rocky breaking more new ground, doing the 'TimeWarp' worldwide via online streaming and Skype, with live audience partici....pation! With RO'B recovering from keyhole surgery on his shoulder, it fell to guitarist Mitch Dalton to help out. Hartley tinkled the ivories (he could probably play this in his sleep!) and RO'B was on vocal duty. Needless to say, we were all on our feet from the first few notes, Benjamin Louche removed his trousers to reveal fishnets and, on the big screen, we witnessed Skypers bringing their knees in tight!
Afterwards, a chance for photos with RO'B and a poignant moment when he was re-united with Ziggy Byfield; friends from their days in Hair, Ziggy was the first ever male understudy in the show. Apart from the obligatory backing vocals and usher duties, Ziggy quickly stepped in to play Riff when Tim was off for a few days and RO'B played Frank. Ziggy then played Frank when the show went to Tokyo in 1976, returning to the Kings Road theatre until the show's West End transfer to the Comedy Theatre.
Nearly 40 years on, the full gory story remains as powerful as ever.
Reviewed by Phil Barden, September 2011
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