Still stocking it to them

Richard O'Brien, creator of The Rocky Horror Show, reflects on 30 years of a cult legend
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The Independent Culture

The Rocky Horror Show last came to London five years ago, when Jason Donovan vamped it up as Dr Frank N Furter, the transvestite scientist from outer space. He had a tough act to follow: Tim Curry had made the part his own in the first stage production in 1973, and then cemented it further a year later in the film version. Now, 30 years on, Jonathan Wilkes has left behind the hippy garb of Godspell for a spell in high heels, as the cult show enjoys a celebratory birthday run at the Queen's Theatre.

"It's very important that the man wearing those fishnets exudes a sexual presence so strong and so dangerous, that both men and women feel sexually threatened and turned on by him," says the creator of the legendary musical, Richard O'Brien, who also played the hunchback Riff Raff on the big screen. Indeed, a national tour has already proved that Wilkes has the requisite sexuality in spades (a strange contrast to his next job as host of ITV1's You've Been Framed!).

O'Brien describes Rocky Horror as "a lovely calling card". The cult legend was set in motion in 1973, when his experimental production rocketed to international stage hit and box-office success within 18 months. "It was supposed to be five weeks in a fringe theatre and then back to being a jobbing actor, waiting for the phone to ring. The show ran for seven years in London," says O'Brien.

"There have been times when I've sat down with Tim Curry and thought, my luck's up. We believed we were walking away from it, but it's like Frankenstein's monster - it has a life of its own. It's been an organic growth of something simple and free of hype." Today, however, O'Brien likens himself to an ageing member of royalty: "I'm not in the driving seat; I'm in the back waving."

Obviously, three decades have seen dramatic improvements to the sound and lighting, though Sue Blane still wields control over costume design. Otherwise, with such timeless classics as "Sweet Transvestite", "Damn it, Janet" and the pelvic-thrusting "Time Warp", the key elements have remained pretty much intact.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," is O'Brien's opinion. "I was once invited to see an operatic production of the show in Germany. Brad and Janet were standing there as a car careered down the stage, over the edge and into the band, pouring gas everywhere. It missed the simple essence of the piece," he recalls. "I preferred it when there wasn't a car and the cast had to mime getting into one; Janet's arm became the windscreen wiper. It adds to the magical nonsense."

This year, the only noticeable addition to the set is an embroidered shell with a pearl in the middle. "It's not exactly a golden wedding, it's a 30-year celebration," says O'Brien. "But Frank won't be wearing a twinset. As long as the band rocks and wins the audience over, that's all that matters."

'The Rocky Horror Show - 30th Anniversary', Queen's Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2 (0870-890 1110) 23 Jun-5 Jul