Taken from the
March 18th Edition of Midweek
writer/performer Richard O'Brien is sitting eating a plate of
steak and fries while calmly discussing the door policy into
Hell. This may not be an everyday occurence with anyone else,
but O'Brien, the man responisble for The Rockay Horror Picture
Show and the one time presenter for the Crystal Maze makes it
seem like the most ordinary thing in (or out of) this world.
"We've got a
very good door policy" he states matter-of-factly. "Is
it exclusive? You bet your ass!"
Before you get the
wrong end of the stick, I'm not about to pop my clogs, it's
just that Richard is set to hit the London stage with his latest
musical extravaganza, Disgracefully Yours. Bedecked in horns
and hooves, O'Brien stars as Mephistopheles Smith, an up to
the minute and extremely fashionable devil, welcoming would-be
clients to Hell; now re-christened as Club Inferno PLC.With
his band the Black Angels, and the wonderfully camp backup singers,
the Fabulous Frockettes, he acts as the host to the 'rock and
roll party for people who want to party forever.' Which brings
us back to the entry requirements and the fact that I may not
get past the bouncers at the door.
"The thing with
old style religion is that Lucifer was cast out of Heaven forever
and got to run Hell, and had to accept anyone that Heaven decided
wasn't good enough to pass through the Pearly Gates," he
explains. "There was no choice in the matter, and I thought
that was a pretty bad deal. Now, in my version, only interesting
people get into Hell and boring people won't; because we don't
want to bore our clients for eternity, do we??"
He sees this turn
of events as a logical progression from what is happening in
towards a sort of homogenised, totalitarian centre," he
says "Polarisation is disappearing; political polarisation
with radical lefties shifting to the middle ground, and sexual
polarisation. I couldn't see why the afterlife facilities marketplace
(ALF's for short) shouldn't do the same thing"
is a kind of stand up comedy show complete with rock and roll
musical numbers and, of course, it is for his songs that O'Brien
is probably best known- it may be 21 years since The Rocky Horror
Show first delighted people with such ditties as The Time Warp,
but he's been writing ever since.
"I write very
good songs, I know I do." he says, "and I've written
much better songs than those in Rocky Horror, it's just that
those were the ones that seemed to stick. Musically, I'm a little
under par, so I work and play within my reference. The nice
thing about being inept is that the songs are accessible to
the public because the tunes are simple. Where I hope I win
is with my enjoyment of the lyrics"
In fact, since previewing
the show at the Edinburgh fringe last year he has added three
new songs and is constantly working to make it funnier. Critics
who saw the show at Edinburgh, like Steve Grant of Time Out,
believe it to be the best work he has done since Rocky Horror,
and O'Brien himself sees it as the show he's been working on
all his life, maintaining that most people have fantasies of
"Many have this
fantasy of being in the public eye and being sexy in the public
eye and being applauded for being there. It's a rather narcissistic,
exhibitionist fantasy, and Mephistopheles Smith to some extent
allows me to live that out. Doesn't everybody want to be a rock
star? I can use a mask- it's not me up there, but it really
give me the opportunity to entertain in a very childish, adolescent,
shallow manner. At the end of a performance all you are thinking
about is 'they love me'. It's a reaffirmation of your ability
to be loved. Sad, isn't it? It is pathetic"
O'Brien is actualy
far from pathetic. He talks with great wit and warmth and a
gentle self-mocking irony. When he starts to describe for me
the things he enjoys doing he says: "I write, I make music,
I paint. Yes! I am a renaissance man!"
When I ask if he
sees himself as eccentric, he smiles and says: "I like
what you're saying, but I don't see it as eccentric. I see it
as perfectly normal and natural. The nice thing about the eccentric
label is that it gives me a lot more freedom and leeway in life
for which I'm grateful. I'm free: free of the constraints of
society. I'm amoral; free of dress codes and gender codes and
attitudes. Free of political correctness. I like it."