Theatre

Richard O’Brien: The Rocky Horror Show at 50 is a ‘rainbow event’

Fifty years ago, Richard O'Brien thought The Rocky Horror Show was "silly nonsense". Now, he tells The Big Issue, he's changed his mind.

Tim Curry in Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Show

Tim Curry, camping it up as Dr Frank-N-Furter. Image: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Fifty years after its debut, Richard O’Brien has re-thought the legacy of his transgressive 1973 sci-fi-horror musical The Rocky Horror Show.

Speaking exclusively to The Big Issue from his home in New Zealand just days before his 81st birthday, O’Brien said he had changed his mind about his creation, no longer seeing it as “just a piece of silly nonsense” – but instead recognising its important place for the LGBT+ community.

“Up until very recently, I’ve argued that it is just a piece of silly nonsense. But the religious right has started becoming vocal and horrible. Nationalism in America is terrifying. The lack of kindness towards the LGBT+ [community] is astonishing. And we’re taking steps backwards. So, I think maybe Rocky is becoming more important by default,” he explained.

The Rocky Horror Show opened for the first time in the Theatre Upstairs at London’s Royal Court Theatre in June 1973, with Tim Curry in the lead role as “sweet transvestite” Dr Frank-N-Furter and O’Brien playing his hunchbacked servant Riff Raff. The stage show is currently on tour across the UK to mark its anniversary.

In 1975, it was committed to celluloid as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Though initially a flop, the movie found its audience in midnight cinema screenings, where the audience traditionally interacts with the movie and frequently come dressed as characters from the film. Having been screening constantly since its initial release, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the longest running theatrical release in film history.

With right-wing forces in the ascendency, particularly in the US, O’Brien said he was glad Rocky Horror could still be a rallying point for people who don’t always feel like they fit in.

“It’s a place for the marginalised. I see Rocky, now, as a rainbow event,” O’Brien added. “I’m not a flag waver. Patriotism is the final refuge of the scoundrel. Trump is always on about patriotism, and we know he’s the most unpatriotic person in the world. He divided America, set nice people against each other, and demonised kindness and gentleness and civility. But the flag I would stand by is the rainbow flag. And I think Rocky is important in that respect.” 

Rocky Horror Show cover

The Rocky Horror Show 50th Anniversary Tour runs across the UK until October. For more information see rockyhorror.co.uk 

Read the full cover interview with Richard O’Brien here.

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