My first introduction to Rocky Horror was hearing a friend of a friend recite Frank N. Furter’s “come up to the lab” speech as if it was a Shakespearean soliloquy as part of his A level Drama Studies exam. I loved it, without understanding the context or having heard the music. I must have seen the film soon after, although don’t recall, as I named the two goldfish that I shared with my roommate in the first year of University, Frank & Furter. Sadly one of them died after someone tipped something rather too alcohol into the tank during a party, and the other one, clearly heartbroken, jumped out soon afterwards.
My next music memory of the wonder that is Rocky Horror is very vivid: a year later at Uni, my girlfriend at the time, and her best boy and girl friends came into the public library where I was working part-time, before heading off to some singalong film screening. It was very sweet that she wanted to pop in and see me before heading off. Slightly less thoughtful (at least in the eyes of the head librarian) was the fact that all three were dressed to the nines, and considerably tanked at only 3 ‘o’ clock in the afternoon. She was Magenta, her friends were Columbia and Riff Raff. It caused quite a stir in the small branch library of Westcotes, Leicester, and I’ve never felt quite the same way about the Dewey Decimal System ever since.
Fast forward 20 years and a more recent memory would be making out whilst ‘watching’ the film in the exciting early courtship days of my latest girlfriend, now wife. Rocky Horror has that kind of effect. It’s sexy and subversive, silly and a little bit naughty. Once seen, never forgotten. Although it wasn’t always like that.
Originally a 1973 off-West End theatre production in London, conceived by Richard O’Brien the stage production had considerable success in the UK, slightly less so in the States, where they tend not to cope so well with cross-dressing androgynous openly queer characters as us Brits. In 1975 it was made into a film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with the same original theatre cast, and is in fact the longest-running release in film history. It is the Yanks that we have to thank for making it into the cult phenomenon that it is today, when it started being shown as a midnight grind-house cinema feature. Soon after people began dressing up and speaking the lines and interacting with the film characters, and from there an entire cult of ‘singalong’ style film showings was born that continue to this day.
An addition to the themes of transvestism, sexuality, the show was written during the era of glam rock when boys looking like girls and wearing sequins and long hair was, although still shocking in some living rooms, starting to become the norm on the streets of Soho where the faded glamour and sniff of sleaze is always present around the theatre backdoors. Dosed up with B movie and science fiction memes, not to mention the original Sci-Fi novels, Frankenstein, it was very much the show of the moment.
As well as featuring the singular talents of O’Brien, the cast also features Susan Sarandon in one of her earliest film roles, and Meat Loaf just before he unleashed Bat Out Of Hell upon the world (the two have much in common). But it is Tim Curry that absolutely makes this, his performance is Oscar-worthy, the way he delivers the lines, sings the vocals, and generally manages to ponce about in those heels and fishnets is astonishing. All his main solos on the record are the best songs: Sweet Transvestite, I Can Make You A Man, Don’t Dream It and the glorious I’m Going Home. I particularly love his ridiculously exaggerated upper-class deadpan English accent. Helped of course, by the fantastic lyrics and musical arrangements of Richard O’Brien. His skill and playfulness, riffing on familiar musical themes and cultural tropes, in tracks such as Science Fiction and the wonderfully clever Dammit Janet, are what have made this piece of musical theatre dahlings so perfectly crafted for audience par-ti-ci-pation! And let’s not forget the wedding disco classic, The Time Warp.
The original show is just 4 months younger than me, so here’s to the next 45 years together – long live Rocky Horror!
Best Bits: The world’s introduction to Frank N. Furter: Sweet Transvestite
Genre: Camptastic Glamorific Musical Theatre
Like This, Try This: Look out for Richard O’Brien appearing fleetingly in Flash Gordon, that other schlocky camp-as-tits hit movie