Craig McLachlan once again returns to the show in the leading role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, after playing the transvestite in 1992 in his early twenties and in the show’s 40th anniversary tour. McLachlan spoke (and sang!) to me about his part in the cult musical.
For all you Rocky Horror ‘virgins’ reading this and wondering what a pelvic thrust is, here’s a simple summary of the show… When two innocent sweethearts run into tyre trouble on a stormy night, they seek help from a light at the end of the street. The eerie mansion they come across happens to belong to Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who is in the midst of a maniacal experiment creating a muscular man named Rocky.
But, simple summaries are boring. McLachlan spices up this explanation by injecting pieces of script, knocking sound effects and segments from songs: “For the uninitiated, it is the crazy story of the arrival of aliens from another world. It just so happens they are from a galaxy where transvestites reign supreme. They are lead by the seductive, naughty, and a little bit dangerous, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who manages to create a creature named Rocky. I know you Rocky Horror virgins are thinking, What the hell? But it gets really crazy when an American, respectable couple, Brad and Janet (sings Dammit Janet) are brought to Frank’s mansion where (raps on door and sings the Time Warp) they’re invited to do the Time Warp. From then on, it’s outrageous.”
As a performing artist with a career spanning thirty years, McLachlan says he always has a guitar, banjo or ukulele close by. “Some people drift off and lose focus, but for me…” he strums a chord, and commences singing the opening number, Science Fiction. It’s no surprise the charming entertainer was invited back to perform in the 40th anniversary of the show in 2014 and is now preparing to dazzle audiences for the third time. The man with a household name says “I was a young twenty-something kid when I played Frank all those years ago. At that time I’d come out of a number of years playing Kylie Minogue’s brother in Neighbours. The opportunity came along and I just grabbed it with both hands.”
When asked whether he’d approach the character any differently in next year’s run of Rocky Horror, McLachlan says “As a young, inexperienced performer, it was just about putting lots of makeup on and singing rock ‘n’ roll songs. I didn’t appreciate the cleverness of Richard O’Brien’s creation. So diving back into it with more experience has made me view the show differently, and I determined early on in the rehearsal period that there was so much more to play with.”
Another element that changes with time is the show itself: “Rocky Horror has been around for so long now that it’s almost a brand… If you go and see a KISS concert and there’s no demonic Gene Simmons sticking his tongue out and breathing fire you’re going to feel ripped off. There’s certain things about Rocky Horroryou need to stay true to.
“Where it changes is subtly every night is where the audiences are outrageous and rowdy. Some nights it’s as much a show for us onstage as it is for the audience, so we ride the wave of their energy. For example, when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, he announced that certain prescription medications were going to cost more. There’s this moment where Riff Raff sprays Columbia, and someone in the front row yelled ‘Give me some!’ I looked at her, and staying in character, said ‘Well, you’ll need a prescription. Mind you, thanks to Mr Abbott, it won’t be free anymore.’ And the place erupted!”
To say the versatile performer enjoys entertaining Brisbane’s audiences is an understatement. According to McLachlan, Queensland’s Performing Art’s Centre (QPAC) tends to crank up the heat in an already-fiery theatre. He says “QLD people generally support theatre fantastically, it’s just wonderful. Last time we were in Brissy we sold out and had to head off on tour. Honestly, we could have turned around and just had a residency, because the good people of QLD like to party, and they especially like a naughty night out with Uncle Frank and the gang … I don’t know what’s in the water or the mangoes or bananas, but you guys always turn it up to eleven.”
It’s no surprise people struggle to remain in their seats, considering the Rocky Horror soundtrack is a banquet of delicacies from Science Fiction right through to I’m Going Home. Thankfully, audience participation has always been a significant element of the horror movie’s culture, with UK viewers following an unofficial audience script. McLachlan says “Rocky Horror enjoys a very special, core fanbase and we love that. Right from the beginning of the show the narrator walks out and says: ‘I would like if I may, to take you on a strange journey. It was a fairly ordinary night, when Brad and Janet-’ and off he goes.”
While there may be something strange in Brisbane’s ‘mangoes or bananas,’ the level of engagement isn’t quite as interruptive as our British counterparts: “In England you barely get a sentence out and the entire audience shout ‘You may!’ and ‘How strange!’ It is relentless … Here in Australia, there’s audience participation in people stamping feet or singing along. Aussie audiences expect a level of naughtiness. Richard O’Brien is a dear friend and we laugh about this all the time… he absolutely categorically reckons I’m the naughtiest Frank he’s ever known.”
McLachlan’s extensive resume isn’t all naughty, however, as he’s starred in numerous productions across the globe playing a variety of diverse characters. He’s equally as enthusiastic about them all, whether they’re onstage or on screen. The multifaceted actor appeared as the flying-automobile inventor Caractacus Potts in London’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and says the difference between being in an adult’s show compared to a children’s musical is, firstly, “…we’re wearing more clothes.”
He continues, “I’m a big kid myself, so … I decided that for my Potts I would make him very high-energy, which is the way I tend to be with kids. My Potts was somewhere between Dick Van Dyck in the movie and Jim Carey. It all comes down to your love of performance, whether you’re doing family shows or filming Wrong Girl or Doctor Blake. Whether I’m Dr. Frank (sings Faithful Handyman), Dr. Blake (recites lines) or crazy Eric on the breakfast bar putting his foot in his mouth, I’m still in love with what I do. Whether it’s Potts or Frank, you relish it. Whether the front row is made up of wide-eyed littlies who can’t believe Potts has made that car fly, or rock ‘n’ rollers in fishnets, I love it all.”
McLachlan parted with a teasing medley of his favourite Rocky Horror hits, offering a tantalising sneak peak into the sensational world of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. His charismatic voice will soon fill Australian theatres once more, so prepare to pull on your fishnets and slip into a pair of stilettos for a scandalous night of rock ’n’ roll.
What: Rocky Horror
When: From 18 Jan 2018
Where: QPAC, Concert Hall
Tickets: $59.90 – $139.90
Find more information here.
This post originally appeared on The Creative Issue.