The Richard O'Brien Crusade

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Absolute Hell, Darlings.

Taken from the March 18th Edition of Midweek

Shaven-skulled, elfin-faced 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 modern society.

"We're gravitating 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"

Disgracefully Yours 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 being famous.

"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."

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The Richard O'Brien Crusade est. 1996