Award-winning Australian actor Craig McLachlan has been accused of indecent assault, sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation while performing in the hit musical Rocky Horror Show in 2014.
A joint ABC/Fairfax investigation can reveal that three women from the production claim he took advantage of his raunchy role as Dr Frank-N-Furter to indecently assault, intimidate and harass them, both on and off stage.
Two of the women said they complained to senior production staff at the time but said nothing was done.
Their claims include that Mr McLachlan pulled a cast member’s underpants aside and kissed her buttocks during a performance, that he exposed himself to another actress and kissed a third woman without her permission.
He is also accused of reaching up an actress’s skirt while she was on stage and he was backstage. The women allege he also bullied and intimidated some cast members.
The women have hired a lawyer to request an investigation into their claims, and two of the women have made separate reports about Mr McLachlan’s alleged behaviour to the Victorian Police.
McLachlan, 52, has strenuously denied all the allegations. In an email to the ABC he said: “Frankly, they seem to be simple inventions, perhaps made for financial reasons, perhaps to gain notoriety. In either event, they are to the best of my knowledge utterly and entirely false.”
He said he has talked to some of the production staff at the time who cannot recall any of the alleged incidents the women have described.
The 2018 production of Rocky Horror Show opened in Adelaide on New Year’s Eve with McLachlan in the starring role.
The show is produced by industry heavyweight, the Gordon Frost Organisation (GFO), which has produced many hit musicals including The Sound of Music, Annie, Wicked, Grease and, currently, The Book of Mormon and The Wizard of Oz.
Erika Heynatz, Christie Whelan Browne and Angela Scundi, who played opposite McLachlan in the 2014 production of Rocky Horror Show, asked that the GFO agree to take part in an independent investigation by two senior barristers.
The women told the ABC they have never sought money and they want reassurances the current cast of the show is not at any risk.
But lawyers for the GFO have been resistant to their requests and have threatened to sue the women for defamation.
The ABC has seen documentation including emails, texts and a doctor’s referral which support the women’s claims.
Their reports have been backed by other members of the cast and band and by people they confided in at the time.
‘I had to be on stage with him in a bed’
Whelan Browne is currently starring in the musical Muriel’s Wedding. Back in 2014 she played the role of Janet in Rocky Horror Show. She told the ABC that McLachlan indecently assaulted her on stage.
“I had to be on stage with him in a bed, an upright bed, and I was wearing just bra, undies and garter and … he was pretending to go down on me, that was the scene,” she said.
“But he was directed to kiss down my neck, down my arm and then go down, out of sight. But he would always kiss down my breasts and continue to kiss all the way down until I would have to sort of move and wriggle away.
“I had to turn facing away from him and one night he pulled my underpants to the side so that my right butt cheek was out and he was kissing all around it.
“There’s 2,000 people watching, there was nothing to do but just take it.”
Whelan Browne said he also made lewd, inappropriate comments about her body.
“As the tour went on he would say he could see my vagina through my white underpants, that was my costume.
“And he said that he could see the slit of my vagina and that he could smell it and it smells sweet and he would talk about this a lot.
“And then one night when he was down in the bed, he traced the outline of it … he traced the outline of my vagina with his finger and I slapped his hand away.”
McLachlan said these claims were false and the scene involved two crew members and a stage manager. He said he had since contacted them and they “have no recollection of any such event”.
He said Rocky Horror was a “confrontational musical oozing with sexuality”.
“As such, as part of the musical the actors have to perform certain actions, all of which follow from the show itself — and indeed ‘make’ the show.”
Whelan Browne said McLachlan was also physically aggressive towards her on stage.
“Craig had become really angry at another cast member and there’s a moment in the show when he comes around to each of us and says goodbye.
“And his goodbye to me was normally a stroke on the face and sometimes a kiss on the cheek, a very gentle, loving goodbye.
“And this particular night he was angry, he came up, grabbed me by the jaw and threw my face and then in the bows, when we also clap to the band, he was clapping in my face.”
Whelan Browne said she complained to a senior member of the production staff.
“I said, ‘What is going on?’ and she said, ‘He’s angry.’ It was sort of like, he’s angry — end of story.”
She said the next day she complained to the managing director of the production company, John Frost, who was unavailable for interview.
“John came into my room and he said, ‘Are you OK?’ and I was in tears. I said, ‘I’m frightened of him,’ and John said, ‘Well, we can’t have that.’
“And he hugged me and he said, ‘If you need anything, call me.’ I didn’t have his number, but the next day I decided to go to [a female production staff member].
“I told her that he was intimidating me on stage and others and she said, ‘That’s a very serious accusation and if you want to take that further I’m going to have to call the producers, is that what you want?’
“And the insinuation was, you don’t want to take this further. And I said, ‘You know what I’m talking about,’ and she said, ‘I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.’ So I didn’t take it any further.”
McLachlan described this claim as “absurd” and said some of the claims being made against him were “baseless and vicious” lies.
“I have performed in hundreds of shows with these accusers. On no occasion did any of them raise a concern to me.”
Whelan Browne went on to star alongside McLachlan in the Channel Ten program The Wrong Girl.
She told the ABC she felt dismayed when she learned he had been cast but felt she had to continue to have a civil relationship with McLachlan for the sake of her career and his behaviour towards her on that program was appropriate.
‘You don’t want the boss kissing you’
Heynatz played the role of Magenta in the same production. She said McLachlan’s risque on-stage character “was creeping into backstage behaviour”.
Her problems with McLachlan started when he came into her dressing room and kissed her.
“He knelt down in front of me, and then started saying along the lines of, ‘You’re really beautiful and I can’t stop thinking about you and every day I’m becoming more and more enchanted by you and I’m falling for you and there’s something that I’ve got to do’, and took me by the face and kissed me.
“I was completely taken aback by it, and someone knocked on the door just at that moment and he stood up really quickly and stood behind the door, and as they came in he kind of disappeared.
“I was just kind of frozen and shaky. It’s kind of like, you don’t want the boss kissing you. That’s not what you want. You want to be respected by your colleagues.”
McLachlan said he never had any romantic interest in a female cast member and never made any unwanted advances to any cast members during the show.
“I am, and have been at all relevant times, in a stable relationship with my long-term partner,” he said.
Heynatz said he made an inappropriate advance towards her in the green room when the show was playing in Melbourne.
“I was sitting downstairs in the green room on the couch, facing the kitchen, and he walked down the stairs, through the kitchen and straddled me on the couch, knee either side, and started kissing my neck, and then leant back and said, ‘Too much?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’
“And he climbed off and just walked away. There were other people around. That’s not normal workplace behaviour, that’s not OK.”
McLachlan said he has no recollection of such an event.
Heynatz said she complained to a senior production crew member after she saw McLachlan put his hand up another actress’s skirt while she was performing.
“I was performing a duet with another girl and our head and shoulders are revealed to the audience and the rest of us is concealed behind the set,” she said.
“And while we’re singing, I can feel this other colleague of mine sort of kicking backwards. And Craig is kind of reaching — because we’re up on this platform — reaching up and grabbing up between her legs and up at her bottom. So she’s having to kind of donkey-kick him away.
“And because I’ve already been on the receiving end of some unwanted attention I’m thinking, ‘Any minute now, that’s going to be me.’ So, of course my legs start shaking and ultimately, it’s not safe.
“Regardless of the fact the audience — you’ve still got to keep hamming out to the front and do your job, and meanwhile you’ve got this person who’s kind of messing with you, messing with you from the waist down.”
McLachlan said some cast members were “pranksters” who spoke with sexual innuendo, and accused some of the cast of trying to pull his underpants down on one occasion.
But the women said McLachlan’s behaviour often went beyond a practical joke.
Heynatz said she became so anxious about McLachlan’s visits to her dressing room she confided in a crew member.
“I revealed to her what had gone on. We discussed that. We felt that the role onstage was making its way onto backstage and also the content of the show, which is very raunchy, this highly sexualised environment, we felt that he was really starting to take advantage of that,” she said.
“The woman that I shared this story with was really concerned and she really wanted me to feel safe at work.
“And so she went and bought me a handful of these Greek totems, they’re these evil eyes that are meant to ward away evil spirits. We put one on my dressing room door, we put one on a pin inside my corset, we put one on my apartment door.
“Every day she’d come and sit with me until I was dressed and my hair was done. She made sure that I was safe. The idea was that there was always somebody around so there were no little visits while I was in a state of undress.”
Heynatz said towards the end of the tour she became so distressed she started losing her voice.
“I always felt as though something might go wrong. He might approach me, or there might be a reaction or a retaliation.
“I started to get really anxious on stage. I started to get shakes. My voice started to close up.”
She consulted a GP and told her about what was happening. On a referral note to a psychologist, shown to the ABC, the doctor notes her concerns involved “sexual harassment”.
McLachlan denied he ever put his hand up a performer’s skirt and said at all times during the performance there were crew around the platform and none of the crew he spoke to could recall such an incident.
‘I was terrified. He was a different person’
Scundi played the role of a Phantom chorus girl and was also understudy for various roles. She said McLachlan singled her out for unwanted sexual advances, both on and off stage. She said one incident involved him pressing his pelvis into her during a rehearsal.
“He hugged me and he was wearing these satin boxer shorts and he didn’t have any underwear on underneath. I know that that because he made sure that I could feel his penis against me,” she said.
“So he pulled me into him and he pressed into me and he rubbed so that I could feel that he wasn’t wearing underwear. I know that’s why he did that.
“He’s a big guy and I just stood there until he released the hug and went on his way. I continued with my warm up and that was it.
“I always thought I would respond differently if I was in that unfortunate situation and I froze. And I was on stage in front on everyone.”
McLachlan said he never had any romantic interest in cast members and the claims of him pressing himself up against a cast member were baseless.
He said he only rarely attended warm-ups to offer “words of encouragement”.
Scundi, who has made a lengthy police statement, was understudy for the character Columbia, and when called upon to play the role she told the director she did not want to perform an unscripted, passionate kiss with McLachlan that the previous actress had performed.
“I approached the resident director and I said, ‘I don’t want to do the kiss. That’s not what I have written down. I don’t want to do it,’ and she assured me that I didn’t have to do it.”
The first night she played the role, Scundi said McLachlan did not try to kiss her during the scene.
“The second night I went on, I ran in, hugged and he grabbed me and kissed me. I couldn’t do anything. It was downstage, centre with a spotlight and he kissed me and I couldn’t back away until he let me go.
“I was caught off guard, because the night before he hadn’t done that and so I thought I was safe.”
She said when she confronted him about the unwanted kiss, he abused and threatened her.
“I said, ‘Don’t you kiss me. Don’t you do that ever again and he turned. I haven’t felt that terrified ever in my life, or ever again.
“In that moment, when he turned around … he got in my face, and the show was still going so it was quiet, and he had his finger in my face … I was terrified.
“He was just a different person. He said, ‘You are nothing. Don’t you dare talk to me like that. I will end you.’ And in that moment, I believed him.”
McLachlan said the allegation was baseless and there were “a number of small comic kisses directed in the piece”.
“It is part of the show, coordinated with director and cast.”
At the end of the tour in Melbourne Scundi said she was summoned to McLachlan’s dressing room, but stood in his doorway hesitantly.
“I was so conscious that he was getting changed and I was just standing there watching him get changed,” she said.
“I just kept thinking, ‘He’s going to take his underwear off, he’s going to take his underwear off.’ And sure enough he stood up and took his underwear off and then he was standing naked.
“I straight away went, ‘What the f***.’ Actually ‘What the f***,’ and went to go.”
She said McLachlan apologised and suggested that he was very comfortable getting changed in front of others. She felt it was a deliberate attempt to expose himself to her.
“It was a joke that I was a prude,” she said.
McLachlan said he would never do anything like that and described it as “an outrageous accusation”.
‘There was a real pattern there’
Heynatz says a group of female cast members, not including Whelan Browne and Scundi, met towards the end of the tour to discuss McLachlan’s behaviour.
“Four girls got together in my dressing room and we talked about it. Each of us revealed what had gone on for the other; unwanted kissing, unwanted touching, aggression, bullying, intimidation, everything seemed like a game.
“That real sense of entitlement. That really strong physical kind of force behind things, and all of us were really shaken by it.
“But there was a real pattern there and what really shocked us and really surprised us — because I guess all of us had thought that it was singular attention — none of us were aware that the other person was going through the same thing.”
But at the time, they decided not to make a joint complaint.
“We were like, what do we do? We talked about it. Do we speak to the production company? They’re not going to believe us, he’s the big head star, they’re going to keep him, we’re going to lose our jobs. Are they going to believe us?
“Because of course we were replaceable, so replaceable. That’s the disgusting thing about it. We all feel as though our voice isn’t enough, we’re not important enough, we don’t earn enough money.”
The tipping point came when the Harvey Weinstein story broke late last year and the Hollywood producer was accused of sexual harassment. The ABC does not suggest McLachlan is accused of anything more than indecent assault.
Heynatz, Whelan Browne and Scundi said they were deeply affected by the coverage of the Weinstein scandal and decided to make contact.
Whelan Browne said she had no idea her fellow cast members had suffered the same alleged treatment she had.
“I decided to send a text to Erika. I just said, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you’re having any reaction to these stories that are coming out but I am. I just wanted to see if you’re OK.’ And she called me and apparently all the other girls had already been talking,” she said.
“I felt a real sense of shock when I heard what they’d been going through and that they had talked about coming forward all those years ago.
“I’m glad that we were able to connect because for me, it felt a really lonely, solo experience and it doesn’t anymore”.
The women hired a lawyer to approach the production company, GFO, to request an independent investigation of their complaints and an assurance that current cast members of the show were not at risk.
“They wanted us to be named and they wanted explicit detail of what we’d done before they were actually prepared to listen or explore the matter,” Heynatz said.
In a statement, GFO said John Frost was not available for an interview and the company declined to make any comment on the record.
The women say they are speaking out because they want to change a working culture in the entertainment industry that fails to protect women from assault and harassment.
“The main concern is that this industry remains unchanged, it remains an environment that’s not supporting women, not supporting people, when complaints like this come about, they’re not watching, they’re not listening, they’re not paying attention,” Heynatz said.
Whelan Browne said she wants to make things better for women in her industry.
“My aim is for women in the same situation as me to have protection against this sort of behaviour, to be able to go to a company and say, ‘I’m afraid’, and for that to be taken seriously, and especially a show where you are in bra and undies and very vulnerable,” she said.
“I hope that in coming forward, which is something that is very difficult and something I’ve tried to avoid, I hope that it makes a change.”
Scundi said she’s speaking out despite fears of how it might affect her future career.
“This is bigger than me and my career. I think that when you weigh up the cost of some things, the cost of me not speaking up is far greater than me never doing a musical again,” she said in tears.