Interview Patricia Quinn
Earlier this summer (2014) Play It Again Rocky had the great fortune of interviewing the amazing and talented Patricia Quinn. I have to admit I was a bit star-struck but she was incredibly kind and easy to talk to. The following is a transcript of the interview, the sound quality of my recording was a bit rough. Mrs. Quinn is a storyteller, I could listen to her for hours. I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
PIAR: The original Rocky Horror Show was very modest. Set in a derelict cinema on a tight budget. Now that the show has cult status many productions are lavish; with huge sets and costume budgets. What do you think about how the show is done now?
PQ: The original was extraordinary in the fact that we didn’t know what we’d got. And it was an engagement of three weeks at the King’s Road Theatre Upstairs. So you know it was very vague because we were writing it as we were doing it. Songs were being brought in cause it was too short. Eddie’s Teddy was being brought in at the last minute; I Want To Be Dirty was brought in overnight. You know it wasn’t all there. We were writing as we were rehearsing. So it was extraordinary. Julie Covington who was the first Janet and a wonderful singer she had made the original recording of Evita and they wanted her for the original stage show of Evita and she turned it down. She’s like that, a bit bonkers. (laughs) With Evita they made the recording before they put the show on. So she was Evita on the first recording and she played our Janet. She had a marvelous voice, really wonderful, I’ve known her forever. Then they brought in I Want To Be Dirty and she said “I’m not doing it, I’m sorry but that’s disgusting.” The other night they brought Perry’s book by to show me, I want it but haven’t gotten it yet. There’s a picture of me and we’re children! We look so young! And actually Nell is ten years younger than me; I’ve only just found that out. At the time I never knew that. You know so she was really a baby, so was Meat Loaf. You know I was a married woman with a baby. She and I look, to me, like children; I didn’t realize how young we were when we did that. This is a complicated answer but the original was extraordinary cause we didn’t know what we got, we were just putting on a musical at a sixty seat theatre. It was great fun at rehearsal. We put in Eddie’s Teddy at the last minute cause the show was an hour twenty without an interval which was great, it didn’t need one. It’s how it should be played because it’s too short for an interval.
Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre there was a play on called The Sea with Coral Brown, and Ian Holm so we couldn’t start until The Sea finished, until The Sea ran dry. We couldn’t have the music upstairs while they were playing downstairs, couldn’t have Sweet Transvestite (playing during their show). We couldn’t start till late, strange that it became a late night movie, I’ve forgotten ten at night or something. I went back to the show twenty one years later on stage, they had invited me back for the twenty first year anniversary and how that came about, I just want to show you the difference between the shows. What they planned to do was put the show on at the Piccadilly Theater on a grand scale with a rocket back to Transylvania; you know a new set with a rocket on stage! They threw a lot of money at it.
I can sing Science Fiction anywhere in the world and have done all over the world. I just go in and sing my song and leave. So I drop in like a diva like Maria Callas. I take my aria all over the world. Cause I don’t like to be in it, cause Magenta is in the action of it, but the Usherette just begins it and finishes it. So I can just step into it, it’s brilliant! A great gig. I’ve done that everywhere, I’ve gone on promotions for 20th Century selling DVDs and blurays and joined the cast in Europe and things. It’s great! I feel like Mick Jagger you know. And so they’d asked me to come to the Piccadilly Theatre and sing Science Fiction on the last week of that show. I saw the first night of that show and I wasn’t impressed. The guy playing Tim…Frank, in fact the guy was called Tim, an actor called Tim McInnery, he was sadly miscast. It was not his fault; he couldn’t sing. You’ve got to have a bit of something to play Frank, he wasn’t sexy and he couldn’t sing poor guy, I’m so sorry but that’s the truth. I’m sure he’d admit it himself. A bit like the guy in Australia at the moment, who’s done it before, I don’t mean to be rude, but he’s in his fifties! Pazuzu the other night, one of the die-hards since the age of 12, Tony Pazuzu has been a fan since 12 traveled Australia on busses following the show. We couldn’t understand that casting. How can they possibly do that? But the audience didn’t give a toot! They loved it. They didn’t care, they don’t care anymore. Because the audience is in it, they become part of it.
Now this is what I’ve discovered which is amazing. So I begin upstairs at the Royal Court, there’s no movie, there’s no nothing, there’s no famous audience participation. People sat, and listened and watched. Like you’re watching Chekhov, you’re watching Shakespeare, you’re watching a musical. When I got up the first night at the Royal Court and sang Science Fiction, well it was raining and the roof was leaking so they’d put buckets out. Now the Royal Court is gorgeous because it’s been renovated. But at that time it wasn’t. The reaction on night one was extraordinary even with sixty people and it was word of mouth within a week. We had to extend for five weeks and then we had to move to another theatre. We were the talk of the town. We were invited to restaurants and we were it! Within three weeks! It was amazing! Totally amazing and it just happened. And to show you the difference I go onto the stage twenty one years later at the Piccadilly Theatre, I was actually on holiday in France. They rung me up and said “Would you do one night?” “Well I’m in France on holiday!” They said “Well we’ll pay you to come back to France.” I said “Oh Okay then, are you paying me?” They said “yes” “Well great, I’m coming.”(laughs)
So the difference was from the first night was, what they’d been doing at the Piccadilly is bringing in singers like Chrissie Hynde you know pop singers to do Science Fiction which is great, cause they can. You see you don’t have to be in it, you just have to do it. So they brought me in to sing it. I loved it cause they brought me into rehearse while they were warming up. They were doing a matinee or something so there were kids on the stage warming up. We didn’t warm up, we just drank port to help our voices. Warm up? What the fuck do you need to warm up for it’s only the Time Warp for God’s sake? (laughs) And it tells you in the song how to do it. We don’t need a choreographer in warm ups. And we didn’t even have a choreographer twenty one years ago. And now it’s 1,2,3,4 2,2,3,4, bup,bu,bup,bup for God’s sake it’s only The Time Warp. And it wasn’t any bloody different. So I went downstairs at the Piccadilly and I thought, Yeah, I’m home. And I went upstairs and some of the band was still some of the guys from way back when, old rock and rollers, you know who really knew how to play it, can you imagine? I knew some of them, it was amazing! And they said to me “Do you need the words? You can put the words in the ice-cream tray.” I said “You think I don’t know the words?” No, it’s lovely, Chrissie Hynde needs the words but I don’t.
So the girl playing the usherette left her costume in the dressing room cause she didn’t need it that night. I told Richard I needed to get some stilettos. I think I didn’t remember that correctly, because I was a Playboy Bunny and we had 4 or 5 inch heels but as the Usherette I never wore very high heels. They were quite low, I’d forgotten, so Richard and I went out shopping for white stilettos and we bought those. He loved shopping with me, he liked that sort of thing Richard. He was trying them on himself. (laughs)
So that night I got to the theatre. There was the brown envelope on the table. I like brown envelopes, you know, before you go on, the money’s on the table. (laughs) I see my Usherette’s costume. I put it on and looked in the mirror and thought oh my God! There she is. It was amazing. And there was a bouquet from my husband, Sir Robert Stevens, the actor. So I went downstairs picked up my ice-cream tray in the wings. I came on and that audience knew how to participate, but they didn’t. And you could hear a pin drop. Just like on day one upstairs at the Royal Court. So I was able to sing my song gentle and naïve that she was, that I played her as. Because when it went to the Roxy in Los Angeles that’s when it was belted, those singers could really belt. So it was like “MICHAEL RENNIE WAS ILL!” Well not me. I’m acting it, not singing it. And so I did it and it was tremendous.
The sign in the lobby said “house full” and we love that. People in the audience knew me. I don’t know how that came about but a lot of fans were out there. And so I did my song and walked off to Richard O’Brien and Chris Malcom in the wings. Richard kissed my shoes. That was my first experience joining the show like that. So then after that they had the idea that I should come back and do the show twenty one years later. A weekly tour and then taking into the Duke of York’s in the West End. I said “A weekly tour? I’ve never toured in my life!” You know it’s called tour de force, forced to tour. I thought It’d kill me, but I did it cause I like it. I thought what better show could you be in? It’s so loved. There are 2200 a night and it’s the only show sold out like that on the road for how many years? 40 years. What happens when you get to a town it’s Rocky Horror week. Everyone goes home has a bath, shaves their legs, puts on some nice underwear, hopefully, and goes to the show. It’s become a tradition, they don’t miss it. It’s back. It stays for a week and then it’s off again. Then it’s Rocky Horror week in the next city. Then in Bristol, wonderful theatre, the Bristol Hippodrome, biggest theatre we go to with this show and it was amazing for me to be in it again and see what’s happened to it. When the Usherette comes on in that show with the crowd with their water pistols and their Y-fronts and their boas and their knickers, and they’re all running up and down, without a thought in the world that they’re naked. I know it’s nothing now but even 21 years ago it was something.
Was that 21 years ago? Yes the year my husband was ill. 1995. 1994-95 yes cause I was on stage in the Duke of York’s Theatre and he was in the hospital. Shit! And he’s dead then 20 years next year. Cause I’m getting him a blue plaque. Do you know what that is? Ok well in London we have plaques to commemorate people who have achieved something or another. They put on houses like Karl Marx has one across the road, Sylvia Plath has one around the corner, W.B. Yeats has one down the road, see what I’m saying? It’s a blue plaque and it commemorates “W.B. Yeats lived in this dwelling from the year this to the year this writer and blah blah blah poet” So Robert’s plaque is because he was knighted by the king, for his acting. But you have to have been dead for 20 years. Elizabeth Taylor would have liked one on her house in England but she’s only been dead three or four years. There’s no exceptions it has to be 20 years. I rang up the plaque people, they offered me a coat of arms because he became a Knight and I became a Lady. I don’t need a coat of arms, but it might be nice for my grandchildren. I said, “No, I want the plaque,” and they said to me “I’m sorry Lady Stevens but Sir Laurence and Sir Ralph are awaiting their plaques.” Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson are two great actors. I said “why?” She said “One must be deceased for 20 years before one gets a plaque you see.” And I said “Why?” and she said “It’s our policy.” It has to do with skeletons in the cupboard and ours are all out. It needs to do with that. In case anything with your reputation comes up, you know what I mean? For example at the moment all these people being jailed for sex offenses, you know in their eighties and being robbed of their titles and things in England it’s non-stop at the moment. It’s a witch hunt for sex offenders who were all in the pop business or this and that. That's what’s going on in London.
Anyway where were we? Ok so I went back on the road with it and that’s when I found out what it’s like. And you really can’t be subtle and you can’t play it like we played it. It’s a great, great shame but the audience has taken over completely with the participation. Not only that but when you’re live on stage I’ve got one girl in particular who used to make up new things all the time and get a box at the theatre, the best seat. She came with different lines that were often quite shocking like to rumble me on stage but of course I never let that happen. Sometimes they’re very funny but you have to stay in character.
I came on as the Usherette in front of 2200 people and it’s like being at Wembley Stadium for football it’s like a wave goes up. You’d start singing Science Fiction and you’d get to “whoa oh oh oh oh oh” and then you’d get back “WHOA OH OH OH OH OH.” You know, in one voice. It comes at you like a tornado hit you on the stage, the velocity of them. So of course we all kept losing our voices because you have to compete with these people out there. And so now the show is quite vulgar because it has to be with the audience.