Playwright Tom Crowley speaks to Theatrefullstop about adapting Richard O'Brien's Shock Treatment for the stage!
We all love a good cult movie- as is proof from the hundreds of midnight screenings for films such as Trolls 2 and Rocky Horror Picture Show over the decades. Taking to the stage are two new adaptations of some of the world’s most loved cult films- Shock Treatment, Richard O’ Brien’s “parallel reality” film based on characters from Rocky Horror, and “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”, The Room by Tommy Wiseau. Theatrefullstop talked to the adapters behind these smash cult successes, Tom Crowley and Edward Greenwood.
A lot of people will recognise Shock Treatment as the official follow-up to Rocky Horror, a not quite sequel of sorts. Could you tell me how it picks up from where RH left off?
At the start of Rocky Horror, we see Brad propose to Janet after attending Ralph and Betty Hapschatt’s wedding. In Shock Treatment, Ralph and Betty are going through a messy divorce but are still having to maintain a happily wedded image to perpetuate their Richard-and-Judy-esque husband-and-wife telly presenting act, and Brad and Janet are facing marital difficulties of their own. One of our aims in adapting the show for the stage was to make it feel like these were the same characters we remember from Rocky, but at a very different time in their lives. We settled on a different take on the ‘equal’ (ie., not a sequel, not a prequel) by deciding that these events did in fact take place in the same universe, but that the story of Rocky is just sort of something that happened once upon a time, like the long, blitzed nights out at college which become dim, distant, misty-eyed memories within a matter of months. Brad and Janet’s rip-roaring engagement party is a long way behind them when we meet them at the start of Shock Treatment.
A major objective for me personally was to make Brad and Janet feel like Brad and Janet in a way which they sort of didn’t in the film. Cliff de Young and Jessica Harper delivered ace interpretations of the characters all their own, but I couldn’t quite connect them to Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick. Many people like that vibe, though, as it suggests that Brad and Janet are the eternal everypeople rather than two specific characters. However, we wanted to bring back Rocky‘s heroes and pay off their story in our adaptation. I have used the phrase ‘Brad and Janet’ a thousand and six times in this answer.
What drew you to the project?
Adam Spreadbury-Maher, the King’s Head’s Artistic Director, was familiar with my writing and suggested me to Benji Sperring, the director. I wasn’t certain that I’d be the right person for the job, knowing that there are much more dedicated Rocky Horror fans than myself. However, when I met Benji, I could tell that he was not only hugely passionate about the source material, but that he also had an incredibly clear vision about what he wanted to tweak and twist from the original screenplay, so I knew I’d never want for guidance with the script. We also got on like a house on fire and made each other laugh a lot, which is always a good sign. I also liked his hat. On top of which, there’s a brilliant satirical bite to the film and the songs are incredible, which made it a hugely appealing prospect.
When adapting it for stage, did you aim to imitate Richard O’ Brien and Jim Sharman, or were you going for a completely new style?
There’s a beautifully mysterious tone to the humour of Rocky and Shocky which I was desperate to capture in some capacity. On re-watching Rocky for research, it was encapsulated in one line in particular. Near the end of the film, after committing an impressive number of sins, Frank N Furter turns to camera and purrs, ‘it’s not easy having a good time’, which I find to be a hugely funny stroke of writing. A lot of the humour from O’Brien and Sharman’s work comes from naiveté crashing up against corruption. People don’t so much make jokes as inadvertently reveal their subconscious thoughts through innuendo and misunderstanding, which is much harder to write than gags. While there are wise-cracks and one-liners in the stage Shock Treatment, I hope we’ve captured some of that esoteric quality as well.
Have you been involved with any of the rehearsal/audition process, and has that moulded the script?
Benji, his team and the cast have been tremendously welcoming to me and I’ve been able to clarify script questions, approve line changes and even fling in some blocking ideas from time to time. However, most of the time in rehearsal I’ve just sat watching with a big stupid grin on my face as Benji, the cast and Lucie Pankhurst, the choreographer, improve my writing with witty and imaginative verbal and physical delivery. The show’s absolutely a living creature, mutating and maturing as we go, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that process.
Why have fans had to wait 30 years for a stage adaptation?
Unfortunately, the original film never quite found its audience in the same way that Rocky did. After an infamously torturous production cycle (just look up its IMDb page), it got buried in the cult movie midnight slot in a very limited release on its first appearance. The distributors were not very kind to it. Both the VHS and DVD releases were delayed for years and years, even though that ought to have been where it would flourish. I know several other people have tried to get a stage adaptation off the ground, but Benji was the first one with the sheer manic persistence to snag the rights. I, for one, don’t think there could be a better guy for the job.
Interview by Louise Jones.
Shock Treatment is running at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington, until 6th June. For more information on the production, visit here…