pop culture

Time Warped: Riff Raff

It’s astounding, but not for very much longer, madness takes its toll… at a deadly pace, it came from outer space, a “Science Fiction – Double Feature” hit Hamilton, again. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is probably the most successful indie-cult-classic-science-fiction-horror-comedy-musical to hit the stage and screens on this planet schmanet of ours.

The Theatre Royal c. 1919     Credit: Hamilton City Libraries: HCL_00131

In the spirit of the time warp, we’ll go back to 11 March 1915, to Hamilton, a large-ish farming town on the banks of the Waikato river. The Theatre Royal opens today, playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The House of Temperley”, a British silent drama about a blacksmith, a stark contrast to what this site will one day inspire.

Fast forward now to the 1950s and 60s. Under new ownership, and under the new Embassy name, the theatre has been renewed. The facade has been updated, the building now has a hairdresser’s salon next door, and the entertainment selection has changed from old-school silent films to a genre and format every Rocky Horror fan will recognise; science fiction double features.

Riff Raff on a rainy day
Riff Raff on a rainy day

It is in this salon where one talented and eccentric hairdresser styled hair. Fans will recognise the name, Richard O’Brien, the creator of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and the actor behind Riff Raff in the cult-favourite film. The city inspired Richard O’Brien to thread songs about Hamilton throughout the musical, for instance; “Whatever Happened to Saturday Night” was inspired by a night he spent at Hamilton’s Lake Rotoroa as a bodgie rocker; and “Science Fiction – Double Feature” by the theatre he would spend countless evenings.

Riff Raff on a sunny day
Riff Raff on a sunny day

Richard O’Brien played the character Riff Raff on both stage and screen, and although you can watch O’Brien in the movie, Riff Raff is best experienced live; patrons of live Rocky Horror performances are amongst the most rambunctious audiences in the world, often dressing in drag and throwing rice at the wedding, an experience you can’t replicate on home movies.

Although the show first premiered in 1973 in London, O’Brien returned to Hamilton for the show’s 30 year anniversary. The anniversary show, performed at Founders Theatre was packed full of kiwi starts playing our favourite characters, and Riff Raff was played by a Hamilton local. For the anniversary, Hamilton a city known for its dairy farms honoured one of their most unorthodox sons by erecting a statue where the Embassy Theatre once stood, and has become a cult-tourist favourite for the cult-musical fans worldwide.

Even the rubbish bins are Riff Raff themed
Even the rubbish bins are Riff Raff themed

Riff Raff, in full costume stands on a pedestal on Victoria Street’s Embassy Park, named after the theatre that sat on the site before it was demolished in 1994. The park provides access to the Waikato River down a walkway, and everything in the park is Riff Raff themed. The rubbish bins are decorated with lightening bolts, and the public toilets are adorned with mechanical gargoyle bats. On the wall behind the statue you can see instructions on how to do “The Time Warp” so you can reminisce in nostalgia while locals and the internet at large have a bit of a giggle at your expense. If you’re into dancing somewhere the world can see, this is the perfect place, a camera points at the statue and broadcasts live to www.riffraffstatue.org, so make sure you tell everyone when you get there so we can all watch and laugh at you ;).

Rocky Horror Gargoyle
Rocky Horror Gargoyle

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Header image: Riff Raff statue, Hamilton, Aotearoa New Zealand

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