I have adored the cult classic that is Rocky Horror Picture Show since I was a teenager. I always find myself returning to the songs – so iconic! So of course when I found out that my local theatre were running Rocky Horror as part of their autumn line-up, I jumped at the chance to get involved!
If you aren’t familiar with Rocky Horror – frankly, where have you been since 1975? It’s the longest-running theatrical release in film history and is widely renowned as one of the greatest musicals of all time. Rocky Horror is a wonderful initiation into the world of bisexual discovery for characters Brad and Janet (and for us!) through the accidental meeting with gender-bending and fabulous mad scientist, Frank N. Furter. It’s burlesque, meets horror slasher, meets utter chaos – initially ground-breaking for those those who wished to embrace their sexual liberation and queer identity and… oh… now I can see why I immediately loved it!
Audience participation is a huge part of the play and is actively encouraged. The play is often completely unaltered by each cast who plays it and so many of its fans know all of it word for word and ‘heckling’ is pretty much consistent throughout. It gives the show an ambience similar to a burlesque show mixed with an in-joke that everyone who’s seen the film knows.
I had the great opportunity to chat with Kristian Lavercombe, who plays Riff Raff, and ask him some questions about his experiences with Rocky Horror on stage!
Kristian Lavercombe Interview – Rocky Horror
You play Riff Raff who was originally played by Richard O’Brien who wrote and starred in Rocky Horror – how do you take inspiration from his depiction of Riff Raff?
I like to think I take inspiration from the same things Richard O’Brien took from when he wrote Rocky Horror. That is, all the B-horror films and the sci fi films that he watched when he was a teenager. When I first got cast as Riff Raff, I went back and watched all those films. Science Fiction (the opening number) talks about all the things that inspire him, and it paints such a wonderful picture of what his inspiration was – it is the perfect starting point for anyone who is cast in Rocky Horror, or even just wants to learn more about it. Listen to Science Fiction and that will guide you through.
How do you find playing Riff Raff – do you ever find it challenging?
Of course, playing the character that Richard O’Brien made famous means I have very big shoes to fill! I think anyone who’s playing an iconic character (like all the Rocky Horror characters have been really, for approaching 50 years), you have certain responsibility to those characters and to the show, because people come along with certain expectations of how they should be played… especially with Rocky Horror because people have often been to see the show hundreds of times before! I try to bring as much of myself to the character as I can, but pepper in a little bit of the original – certain characters like Mary Poppins… Marty McFly… Frank N Furter… you have to add in elements of the original but as an actor you can bring in as much of yourself as needed.
You mentioned that people had been to see the show hundreds of times… How do you find the increased audience particpation that Rocky Horror seems to encourage?
I love the audience participation – it’s what makes it unique and stand out. I think it’s played a huge part in it’s longevity and why people keep coming back for more! The audience call-outs have really advanced in recent years – there’s call-outs for nearly every other line in the show and the audience becomes a whole other character! I love that; it makes the show exciting for the audience and the actors. I absolutely adore it and long may it last.
I love it when people come up with new ideas for call-outs that are topical to what’s going on in the world, and I really think that’s why people keep coming back for more. That, and of course, the dressing up. People dress as the characters! You don’t have to, but many people do and it just puts the audience in a completely different frame of mind to most audiences – if you dress up, you’re not going to go and just be silent… you’re going to have a great time!
Why do you think that Rocky Horror has earned its cult classic status?
It just has a life of its own! I feel like defies the rules in so many different ways – everything about it probably shouldn’t work but it does and it keeps proving itself for decade after decade, and for generations it’s been a coming-of-age film. It’s given people permission to be themselves, to step outside of the square and be proud about being different. It’s a family to people – it’s an inclusive family. For me personally, I watched it as a teenager and I absolutely adored it; I loved its subversiveness, and its punk element and the “Don’t dream it, be it” aspect seems to strike a chord with so many people, all around the world.
What’s your favourite scene/song/moment to perform?
My first entrance where I appear during There’s a light – the reason I love that is there are always thousands of people in the audiences holding up lights and it’s such a beautiful sight which only I really get to see. It’s breath-taking and amazing seeing an audience work together like that. Other than that, of course The Time Warp is iconic – everybody knows it, it’s been around forever. Everyone’s been to a school disco, or a wedding or a bar where it’s been playing and it feels like it’s been there forever.
Overall, I really love the kitsch, over-the-top, B-Sci-Fi acting that we get to do in Rocky Horror. It’s so fun to play those characters which are slightly over-the-top and Riff Raff certainly gets those moments… and I adore it, and that’s why I’ve been doing it for such a long time.
How do you think the story of Rocky Horror translates to a modern audience?
You know, I wish that I could go back in time and be there for the first performances of Rocky Horror. I could only imagine what a stir it caused and how controversial it must have been, and it must have been something people wanted to see because it hasn’t stopped playing for 50 years! Richard O’Brien basically wrote a classic tale – one of good and evil, a young innocent couple who are corrupted and the lessons they learn and we learn lessons watching that story happen, so no matter what age we’re living in, those lessons continue to be relevant.
Frank N Furter was initially quite a controversial character but a pillar of queer expression for many…
It must have been amazing to see a character up there who was not afraid of their sexuality, who was not afraid of liking men and women and being attracted to them. He was ahead of his time, and kudos to Richard O’Brien for writing a character like that. The world has changed around Rocky Horror so things that were shocking then aren’t so shocking now, but the show still carries a really amazing message of “Be whoever you want to be and don’t care what anybody else thinks.”
You can get tickets to see Rocky Horror at the Belgrade here from 4th October to 8th October, or elsewhere here. Get ready for an unforgettable evening! I see you shiver with antici……….pation!