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INTERVIEW – Craig McLachlan, The Rocky Horror Show – January 2014

| 7 February 2014 | 1 Reply

INTERVIEW – Craig McLachlan, The Rocky Horror Show – January 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

Craig McLachlan by Jeff Busby

Craig McLachlan by Jeff Busby

More than 20 years after first donning the fishnets and corset to play the notorious Frank N Furter on stage in Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show, Craig McLachlan is slipping the lingerie back on for another lap of Australia in the role.

The Fortieth Anniversary production of The Rocky Horror \Show finishes it’s Brisbane run this weekend, before starting in Perth at The Crown theatre on Valentine’s Day, February 14th until March 9th. The show then goes on to a run in Adelaide from March 20th and Melbourne from April 24th.

For more info and tickets, visit

McLachlan says the character’s appeal, for him, has changed over the years.

“If you’d asked me when I did it 20 something years ago,” he explains, “I would have said just the opportunity to whack the heels on, throw a bit of lippy on, get out there and sing some great rock and roll songs.

“Coming back to the role 20-something years down the track, there’s so much more to it. You see and recognize things in the piece that as a kid you just don’t see.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show 2014 Australian Cast by Jeff Busby

The Rocky Horror Picture Show 2014 Australian Cast by Jeff Busby

“I kind of joke about it, but all those years ago in that particular version of the show, we had Gina Riley, my good friend, who was Janet, Peter Rowsthorn was Riff Raff, Steve Kearney from Los Trios Ringbarkus was playing Brad, and a whole bunch of other great people, and we were young, we were all sort of flushed with success in television and in other areas, and for me personally it was just a case of getting up there and having a bloody good time.

“Also, to me way back when, coming out of what I lovingly refer to as the golden Jason & Kylie era of Neighbours, I wanted to do something that just shocked the people, quite frankly. Putting the makeup on and the high heels and the corset and the whatever, that was kind of my focus.

“This time around, I’m literally sitting with the director in the rehearsal room and we’d be working through a scene and I’d go, ‘Shit, I didn’t know Richard was suggesting this. I didn’t know he was playing with that theme,’ and it really is a case of, all these years down the track for me, discovering afresh all this extra stuff in it.

“It’s not that I approached the show superficially all those years ago. I applied myself, but I just didn’t see all of the stuff that was going on in the text and even within the lyrics of the songs. It’s a very, very clever piece, deceivingly so.”

20 years is a long time in any biz, let alone showbiz, and McLachlan jokes that he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be in good enough shape to fit the role.

“20 years down the track, I can tell you, Shane,” he laughs, “that I said to Richard O’Brien when we were trying to nut out the dates and see if it could work, I said, ‘Listen, thank God you’re asking me for the 40th anniversary, not the 50th, because I don’t know that gravity would be my arse’s friend in another ten years.’

“We joke that when the 50th or 60th or indeed 70th anniversary of Rocky Horror comes around,” he continues with another hearty laugh, “I will probably be there as The Narrator!”

Craig McLachlan in costume, with Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O'Brien

Craig McLachlan in costume, with Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O’Brien

The actor and musician goes on to explain that as a wee seven year old being sent to guitar lessons by his parents, it was his older brother’s vinyl records that captivated him more than the lessons themselves, and that coincidentally led him on a direct path to performing in the show.

“It was, you know, Hendrix and Clapton, Cream, the Rolling Stones, etc, etc,” he says enthusiastically. “[And] in his record collection he had the Australian cast recording from about 1974 – with Reg Livermore playing Frank N Furter – of The Rocky Horror Show.

“As a young guitar student, I had absolutely no idea what the images on the inside of this double gatefold cover meant. Is that a bloke? Is it a girl? Is it a bit of both? What is this? What I did know as a kid is, put the vinyl on and drop the needle: the songs were fantastic. Lyrically I kind of couldn’t comprehend it as a kid, but there was something about it musically that really floated my boat.

“In fact, in a guitar magazine not that long ago, someone asked me … we were chatting about the film soundtrack that I’d scored, and they asked me what my influences were as a young guitar player, as a kid. When I said Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show, I’m not sure that the guy really took me seriously – but musically, that record among all the others was a really big one for me.

“Fast forward to the late ’80s, early ’90s, and dare I say it, Check 1 2 was having success on both sides of the Equator. I happened to be in England for ten days, and there was a period where – it seems unbelievable to be talking about it today – but there was a period where we had two songs in the top ten at the one time. The band and I were literally doing the rounds of talk shows and radio shows, and just doing acoustic sets on these television shows, or whatever.

“There was a particular morning, Shane, where this breakfast type show had an exclusive for one of the videos. There was a fuckup with the playback, and the video images were kind of shuddering and, you know, it was a bit of a disaster. But I wasn’t going to let it be a disaster, and I kind of joked with the host of the television show, and said, ‘Listen, we haven’t flown from the other side of the world not to give this song a decent floggin’, so just hang on a minute.’

“I took off my microphone, ran out back to the car where the boys in the band were leaning up against the car having a coffee, and I said, ‘Grab your acoustic bass, grab your snare, I’ll grab a guitar. The video’s fucked, we’re going to have to do the song on the telly.’” He laughs, reliving the moment.

Rocky Horror 2014 Australian cast 02

“We went on and bashed out the song live, and it turned out to be terrific fun and the cameramen are clapping and singing along. So we turned what was potentially a negative, into a real positive, [and] the song was instantaneously added to all the A playlists around the country.

“But more interestingly, Richard O’Brien, the creator of The Rocky Horror Show, happened to be watching this circus on his television, and rang about an hour later and said, ‘Hello, Craig. Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Show here. Listen, I saw the show this morning, what a riot. Would you be up for joining us for a one off charity performance of Rocky Horror?’

“I’m like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ Given how much the cast recording of Rocky meant to me as a kid, I was totally made up, I thought this would be great, and he went, ‘Sound check is tomorrow at 4 and we’re on stage at midnight!’ I’m like, ‘Oooooooookay…’” he laughs again.

“So I went down, and I was playing Eddie, the rocker – and people might remember Meatloaf in that role in the film – and Dr. Scott. Richard himself was playing Frank N. Furter – and of course Richard was famous for playing Riff Raff in the movie. Chrissie Hynde was singing Science Fiction at the top of the show. It was a great bunch of people. We raised a whole lot of money and it was a fantastic night. That night after the performance, Richard said to me, ‘Darling, you’re destined to play Frank.’

“To a young kid, I figured everyone was on a bit of a high from the performance. I’m like, ‘Yeah, thanks. I’m sure I will,’ not thinking about it again… but sure enough, about 18 months later, there I was in the high heels, the fishnets, the corset and the makeup, thinking, ‘Bloody hell, he was right!’ And around that time of that particular production in the early ’90s, I remember Richard saying to me, ‘Darling, once Frank’s inside you………… you’ll never get rid of him!’ Well, he must have been right again, because here I am 20-odd years down the track, doing it all over again.”

Genial to a fault, McLachlan is charming and frank (no pun intended) throughout our half hour chat, peppering his answers with asides and anecdotes, often self-deprecatingly.

Discovering my wife’s name is Trulie, he recalls his time on stage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – coincidentally alongside Richard O’Brien.

“Trulie? As in Truly Scrumptious?” he asks. “Yeah, I did Chitty with Richard, funnily enough, back in the UK. Richard was playing The Child Catcher. You can imagine that spindly little Riff Raff body, [sings] ‘Kiddy Widdy Winkies’ – it was phenomenal!”

When I suggest that the Frank N Furter costume doesn’t leave a lot of space to hide in, he laughs heartily.

“It’s … look, ‘brutal’ comes to mind! We started rehearsals literally just before Christmas, and I’d come off six months of filming the second season of The Doctor Blake Mysteries. Six months out on location with a damn good caterer, filming through a Victorian winter, knowing that you’ve got good tucker at your disposal pretty much all day, in between every shot and setup … you might have another coffee and a bikkie or whatever … mate! It sort of suits the character of Dr Lucien Blake to have a bit of a belly and all the rest of it, but I’ll tell you what – there’s no having a bit of a belly in a corset and a pair of seven inch stilettos!

“So Big Mac was in the gym, sweating like a pig on a spit every day, caning myself to get back down to, shall we say, my fight weight for Rocky Horror. Of course, once you’re in the rehearsal room and you’re going for gold, the pounds fly off you as well.

“I was delighted last night at stage door. There was a whole bunch of folks who had seen that production with me and Gina and the gang 20-something years ago, and one really funny gal, she had the program from way back when. She said, ‘Craig, we’ve been waiting for you to come back, and your bum’s better than ever.’ I said, ‘Can I get that on a T shirt? Or at least can I record that on my iPhone?’ ‘Bum’s better than ever’ – I love it!”

The other side of prancing around on stage for a couple of hours in a skimpy pair of underwear begs the question, do you ever accidentally get aroused?

“Now, only 100% Rock Magazine would ask me that question!” laughs McLachlan.

“Some would argue that I’m in a constant state of arousal once I’m in the gear, Shane,” he continues with a chuckle. “I’ll tell you what, when we get across the turf and you see the show, it’s a pretty arousing production – let’s just say they’re a good looking bunch. There’s plenty of flesh to titillate and delight.

“I’ve got to say, all jokes aside, Gina [Riley] and I did Chicago a few years ago, and we would often reminisce about our time in Rocky Horror and just how much fun it was. It’s the most fun you can legally have, and I suppose we’d come close to being arrestable on some nights. I have to say, Shane, in all honesty – and I wouldn’t have imagined this 20 years ago – but I’m enjoying it even more this time round.

“As you’ll see, it’s a great bunch of kids on stage. The band is just smokin’. Led by Brad Skelton, [they’re] really good rock players. They’re guys who get it, whose roots go back to Elvis and Chuck Berry and through the Stones, so they get the ’50’s flavour of Richard’s compositions. It’s really, really smokin’. All your favourites – Time Warp, Sweet Transvestite – wait till you hear them on the night. It seriously, seriously rocks.”

Craig McLachlan by Jeff Busby

Craig McLachlan by Jeff Busby

The 64 Thousand Dollar Question is, how has Rocky Horror managed to not become dated, like so much other cult favourites from 40 years ago. McLachlan isn’t certain, but he’s happy to put forward a few suggestions.

“It’s a really, really good question,” he says as he ponders, “and you’ll be thrilled to know no one’s asked me that question. Geez, that’s a good question, Shane, I don’t know…

“I know I’m fairly enthusiastic about the music, but whatever or whoever was flowing through Richard O’Brien at the time he wrote the music, it’s just bang on. There’s a simplicity in the arrangements. These are essentially rock and roll songs, they didn’t fuck with them, at no point did Richard Hartley, the arranger for Richard O’Brien, try and turn Rocky Horror into Le Mis or Phantom Of The Opera, you know what I mean?

“I’m lucky enough to have a copy of Richard’s original demos for the show, just bashing out on an acoustic guitar, and what you hear on the demo is not a million miles away from what was ultimately arranged for performance and indeed for the film. So I think, you know that old thing, ‘a great song is a great song’, and moreover, as I say, they didn’t fuck with the rock and roll essence of the songs.

“Beyond that, it’s really interesting, and I’m only aware of it this time round, to be honest, Shane – back in the day it was just enough to get up on the stage in that outrageous getup and sing a few great tunes, and just try and be naughty. This time around, I’m more aware of the layers within the piece. Chris Luscombe, the director from London who came out and directed the show, he and I would sit there every day and I’d be like, ‘Shit, I never picked up on this scene when I was a kid. I never recognised this in the script.’

“There’s no teacher like experience, is there? You’re older, you’re wiser. You hopefully bring all of that experience with you into the rehearsal room, and I’m finding stuff in the show that I just didn’t recognize as a kid. The music, the cleverness of the text, the wonderful absurdity of it and the clever lyrics.

“If you look at the lyrics to the first song, Science Fiction, Richard O’Brien brilliantly ticks all of the boxes of that classic ’50s schlock horror, American pop culture. Every line is just a gem, a sharp observation. Post World War II, American pop culture was sweeping the world. Richard was in New Zealand and very much thriving, and he was certainly fascinated by it.

“I know I’m waffling on,” he says with a laugh, “and I’m trying to throw up as many things to answer your question as to why 40 years down the track it still holds up so wonderfully. It has been a delight for me to witness over the last week since we opened up here in Brisbane, is I am on a nightly basis reminded of just how people do connect with it.

“What’s an example in a really good rock context? Take KISS. They talk about the KISS Army, the legion, the millions of fans around the world who love KISS, and Paul Stanley is a good friend of mine. That’s another interview for another day, but whenever I’ve been in London or back in Australia over the last few years and KISS have been in town, Paul and I have been on the phone and I’ve managed to get along to the concerts.

“What’s amazing is KISS still put on this fantastic show, and it is now truly multigenerational. Guys and girls who were there at the beginning in the early to mid ’70s when KISS were very much an underground sort of phenomenon out of New York, they’re still there, and they’re there with their children and in some cases their grandchildren. I was at the big KISS Symphony gig in Melbourne a few years ago, and I’m literally standing next to 50 year old guys and girls in full Gene and Paul, Ace and Peter makeup on one side of me, and I turn to the other side and there are young kids who are barely in their teens, completely rocking out, and it’s really interesting.

“There’s a similar thing going on with Rocky Horror audiences. On our opening night, I got chatting to a husband and wife. They saw Reg Livermore do it in the mid ’70s, they saw Daniel Abineri do it in the ’80s before I got my hands on the fishnets, and they saw me do it in the early ’90s. Now they’re back seeing me do it with their teenage kids. It’s quite extraordinary, it’s an amazing thing.

“People connect with this show, and the show is out there. We think about musical theater, and Rocky is… yes, it’s musical theater because it’s a musical event happening in a theater, but it’s kind of its own little planet, orbiting its own little musical galaxy. Do you know what I mean?

“I probably didn’t go anywhere near answering your question succinctly!”

Circuitously, McLachlan did just that. Touching on all these different aspects of the show’s appeal leads us to the answer right in front of us – when Richard O’Brien created the show, he somehow summoned all the elements together in a perfect storm.

“Fuck, I wish I’d come up with that, Shane,” laughs the actor, generously. “That’s a great description. I once joked with Richard that, when we tragically lost Buddy Holly all those years ago, it seemed that somehow a whole bunch of great chord progressions that he had in mind for his next studio record, the studio record that he tragically never got to record, somehow he managed to channel those chord progressions from the other side through Richard.

“It’s quite extraordinary, and I think sometimes in this life, the planets do just line up. You’re right, I think the ‘perfect storm’ description is a really, really good one. For whatever reason, Richard rolled a double six with his dice when he sat down with his acoustic guitar that night, and here we are 40 years down the track. The theater up here in Brisbane is a huge theater. It’s sold out every night – I think the entire season’s sold out now, and you go, ‘Wow, this little thing..?’

“Richard would tell you this himself if he was chatting to you, he only planned Rocky Horror to run for three weeks. It was supposed to be just a little, fun, three week engagement at this kooky little theatre!”


Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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  1. Sandra says:

    Fantastic interview. Well done Shane. I watch Dr Blake series and it’s really difficult relating Craig playing Dr Blake to Craig playing Frank N Furter. That is real versatility. Love it!!

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