A musical about love, murder, greed…and a giant, man-eating plant, all told through the retro sounds of 1950s rock n’ roll and doo-wop. New Street Theatre and Lakeside bring a slice of hilariously ridiculous Americana to the Djanogly Theatre in their production of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Martin Berry.
Seymour (Oscar Conlon-Murray) is a lowly shop assistant in the struggling florists Mushniks, a flower shop ran by equally struggling owner Gravis Mushnik (Andrew Haynes). Seymour has always had a thing for his female co-worker Audrey (Laura Kaye Thomson); a working-class New Yorker whose penchant for tacky, slutty outfits makes her the U.S. of A equivalent of a dim-but-nice ‘Little Englander’. Audrey would be perfect for Seymour were it not for the fact that she is currently dating Orin Scrivello (James McAndrew); a masochistic dentist who constantly beats and berates Audrey much to Seymour’s chagrin… although we suspect that Audrey herself is really a bit of a sub anyway. Due to Seymour’s own shy and unassuming nature, this situation would surely have continued and he never would have had a chance with Audrey.
This all changes, however, with the arrival of Audrey II (voiced by Mark Coffey-Bainbridge and puppeteered by Chris Moseley), a flower from outer-space (yes, a flower from outer-space) with a taste for human meat; a taste that requires Seymour to bring the plant a constant supply of fresh flesh. As Audrey II grows so does Seymour’s fame and fortune which, subsequently, brings along with it increased affection from Seymour’s love interest, Audrey herself. However, as Audrey II’s ravenous appetite grows, things all too quickly spiral out of control for Seymour.
This fantastical sci-fi plot unfolds over two and a half hours of rock n’ roll and doo-wop numbers, mixed in with a large dollop of comedy. Being as it is a well-established musical, the pacing and quality of the production cannot be faulted; a quality that is only further heightened by the impressive performances of the cast. Nicole Bilton, Emma McDonald and Ella Greenwood, the three girls who are the performance’s alternative down-and-out Greek Chorus really shine, opening the show and absolutely drawing the audience into Menken and Ashman’s darkly comedic world of love, loss, and human sacrifice.
Haynes, Thomson, and Conlon-Murray equally work fantastically together; vocally they are precise and professional, allowing them to pull off their parts with an ease which belies the obvious hard work put into their performances. The man-eating antagonist that is Audrey II, a result of the vocals of Bainbridge and the movements of Moseley, has a characterful, menacing charm of its own; a charm which must be so hard to produce when there is more than one person essentially manning the character. However, the real stand-out performer is James McAndrew. Whether playing the sadistic dentist Scrivello, or another minor character, he is wickedly funny. Whereas Steve Martin’s dentist in the 1986 movie-version fell slightly flat, McAndrew’s, played with a notable hint of Patrick Bateman in his sadomasochism, was pitch perfect.
All of this however could not have been made possible if it was not for those unseen figures which comprise the lighting and scenery design. The mise-en-scene looked great, as it contained just the right amount of believable grit and realism without compromising the show’s essentially humorous nature. The lighting was intelligently used too; at times reflecting the emotions of the characters or forcing the audience to imagine Audrey II in the act of human-consumption, a feat that of course cannot be physically created on stage. However, it is the live music that really shines here. The musicians themselves brilliantly bring Menken’s music to life, bringing a real energy to his 50s inspired soundtrack with a technical ability and emotional feel to be applauded.
As a twenty three year old male whose main interest is neo-Marxist Critical Theory, I have to say that musicals have always stood at something of a distance, mainly viewing them as tacky, overly camp clap-alongs churned out by Lloyd-Webber Inc. However, as much as I probably didn’t want to like this, whether down to my own unfounded pretensions or not, I couldn’t help it; Little Shop of Horrors won me over.
The whole production effectuates a warmth that is rarely seen, a warmth that can probably be enjoyed by all. So, if you are not in your awful cynical twenties, if you have outgrown this phase or if you have small children who you want to introduce to musical theatre, there really isn’t anything better on at the moment. It’s funny, it’s engaging, it’s technically solid, and if it can manage to thaw out my cold, dead, post-modern twenty something heart, then it can only be commended as something slightly special.