As part of its 40th anniversary tour, actor Philip Franks is swapping the cosy Sunday night television of The Darling Buds of May and Heartbeat for the late night double feature naughtiness of The Rocky Horror Show playing the Narrator. Starburst caught up with Mr. Franks for a chat about the tour so far and to indulge in his love of horror...
Starburst: So how’s the tour been so far?
Philip Franks: It’s been great, it really has, especially Glasgow, Glasgow was brilliant.
Prior to your involvement with Rocky Horror, what was your previous experience of the show?
Well I had seen the original stage version, as in the really original version with Tim Curry, I was at school, it was 1973 and me and a couple of school friends went to see it, and the whole experience of it was like the naughtiest thing in the world ever. Then we played the soundtrack album to death and then I kind of forgot about it then, I mean, back then it wasn’t what the show is now, it wasn’t that interactive thing, it was just a show, but it was just so brilliant. And then the film came along and I saw that like everyone else did, but the show as it is now, which came to life off the back of the film, I hadn’t seen, and it came along for me to do because Chris Luscombe I had worked with doing The History Boys, he rang me up and said ‘would you fancy doing it?’ and I was so scared at the idea because I had never done a musical before, but I thought perhaps being alarmed by something is a very good reason for doing it.
So what preparation did you do for the role of the Narrator?
I’ve been luckier than most other Narrators in that I had a proper rehearsal period, I had three weeks with the company before the show went out, whereas others are given the book, expected to turn up on the Monday and that’s that, and there’s nothing more terrifying than that. So I had a proper rehearsal period where I was able to learn the lines and I am in a bit more of it than previous Narrators have been, I’m in a couple more numbers and I think there’s some material that has been reinstated, but of course what you can’t rehearse is being with the audience, who in some cases, know the play better than you do and they’re shouting at you. So when you decide who the Narrator is (because it’s not me but it’s a character) you just jump in and take whatever they shout at you.
So was there any preparation you felt you could do for the audience participation?
A little bit, we had the assistant director who very politely sat behind a desk in rehearsals and would shout something every so often because there are a certain number of shout-backs that you can predict, but there’s some, like with our initial three weeks in Brighton, you have to make up your responses as you go along. So you go along with how an audience is on a particular night. And it varies, for example in Glasgow, there is a very strong dialogue between you and the audience, meanwhile when we were in Grimsby, they hardly shouted anything.
So, moving on then, what do you think has made the show so appealing over the last 40 years?
That’s a good question, because the show itself was slung together in about three weeks. I think that it’s because it has a kind of honesty to it, it was everything that Richard was interested in. He was a lonely boy from New Zealand who was brought up on this diet of B-Movies, horror and science fiction and that yearning of that lonely boy for a tacky, yet glamorous world was all put together in this melting pot against the backdrop of the sexual revolution of the 1970s and this was what came out of it. And it’s got a lot in common with basic British panto and also fairy-tale, with this idea of two innocent kids and a wicked queen; it all appeals to the national psyche. It became one of those moments where eclectic ingredients went together as a new and exciting recipe.
Yeah, and there’s that strong element of parody as well.
Yes, it is parody but with absolute love and affection. It is a good hearted show amidst all its horror and sleaziness and ‘oh, here come the aliens in fishnets!’
So in a show that does parody horror and sci-fi film, what would you say your favourites were?
I’m a big horror film buff, I must admit that I know more about horror than I do sci-fi, but I do love the Cold War 1950s ones such as The Day The Earth Stood Still, the ones that are in all seriousness but with low production values. But I’m still, like I said, a massive horror buff.
Any particular favourites?
I am still terrified by the original Halloween, it’s an absolute classic, more recently I enjoyed Eden Lake very much. I’m really intrigued by the idea that every generation’s horror films tell you what you’re scared of. So, in America, they’re frightened of abroad, whereas in Britain we’re frightened by children. So with things like Hostel, American kids are placed in a situation where they can’t read their guide books and don’t know the language. Whereas over here, we’re concerned with feral children that want to kill us. I very much enjoyed the one that was set on the Tube done recently, but I forget the name and I’m very much looking forward to Mama. Have you seen The Bay? That’s very good, it’s by Barry Levinson, about killer crustaceans, but it absolutely references those ‘small town in peril’ films from the 1950s and 60s, and is very, very good.
We must admit we’re looking forward to the remake of Evil Dead.
Remake? Who’s done that then?
It’s a new director but Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are both on board as producers.
Wow! I remember being in Canada, a couple of years ago and getting to see Evil Dead the Musical. And when you bought your ticket you were asked very politely if you would like to sit in the ‘splatter zone?’ and they give you a cagoule to wear and you get totally covered in blood.
So, moving back to Rocky Horror then, I know Charles Gray played your role of the Narrator brilliantly in the film, who would you like to see play the part?
Charles Gray, basically.
So Charles Gray can’t be topped?
He was perfect. He had the combination of sinister and witty, which is what the show needs. Of course he references Edgar Lustgarten and Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone. They were good examples because they were silkily funny (in a raised eye-brow sort of way) but also deadly serious. Kevin Spacey would also be wonderful in the role.
We can see Kevin Spacey doing it. One final question: one word to describe your Rocky Horror experience so far?
Thank you very much, Philip, and best wishes for the rest of the tour.
For more details on where you can catch THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW - 40TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR, visit the official site www.rockyhorror.co.uk