Richard O'Brien Irving Wardle - Essay

Irving Wardle

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

On present evidence, Richard O'Brien, of Rocky Horror Show fame, seems a gifted mid-Atlantic parodist who has run out of material. T Zee, his last show, sent up Tarzan to no apparent purpose, but at least it did have a subject. By contrast, I would be hard put to say what Disaster is about.

As usual, it takes place on an exotically isolated location; this time a pair of Caribbean islands menaced by the impending collision of two giant icebergs, and the action consists of a race against time to blow them up with a consignment of radioactive waste which the Americans have thoughtfully dumped within easy reach.

The least you would expect from that is a climax in which the icebergs do or do not collide. But Mr O'Brien leaves that bit out, and winds things up with the sight of a lady television personality … escaping in a helicopter piloted by a seductive concert pianist who turns out to be the Devil (proving it with a long cackling laugh).

As you may surmise from those two, the show goes for character rather than plot. By various barefaced dodges, Mr O'Brien assembles a party also including a hawkish American senator, a hippie oceanographer and his Woodstock-generation wife, a pirouetting black photographer, and an alcoholic doctor of divinity. Parental and erotic relationships are involved, but as they lead nowhere there is no point in itemizing them. The method is simply to throw all those stereotypes together and let them give themselves away with the clichés of their trades in the hope that something will take shape. Nothing does….

Irving Wardle, "The Arts: 'Disaster'," in The Times (© 1978 The Times, London), July 7, 1978, p. 11.