Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors

Revived and revamped for a new run at Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre, Little Shop of Horrors breathes new life into an old favourite.

By the way, you can find more information about this and other shows at Official Theatre.

First appearing off-off Broadway in 1962, the horticultural horror story has been a smash hit for decades. It tells the story of overworked shop assistant Seymour (Marc Antolin), who discovers a plant that can bring him wealth and fame. Unfortunately, the plant has a sinister secret – it only grows and thrives by eating human flesh – and poor Seymour must find a way to contain its ravenous appetite.

The set takes on the appearance of 1960s New York’s impoverished Skid Row, complete with a rundown drive-through theatre, bags of rubbish trolleyed around by the poor. In the distance sit skyscrapers and all the signs of a thriving and prosperous city next door. In the centre of the grey awfulness, there is Mushnik’s small plant shop, the setting for this colourful and eccentric story.

The world building here is astonishing. Tom Scutt’s set and costume design creates the perfect atmosphere for this bonkers production. Everything is larger-than-life, blending colour and retro with a hint of surrealism. It honours the 1960s aesthetics while bringing something totally sharp and fresh to the mix. Each character has a unique look. They are exuberant and outrageously bold – just like the show. There’s a high level of attention to detail all-round, including plants made of various household objects (one will make you laugh) plus a funeral wreath made innovatively out of shuttlecocks. Orin’s biker jacket is decorated with teeth and Audrey II’s glittery boots read: ‘Feed me’.



Although sixty years old, Little Shop of Horror’s musical numbers, created by Disney composer and lyricist partnership Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, still hold up in 2018. The musical numbers are bold, fresh and exciting. While it is not choreography-heavy, what Lizzi Gee does bring is top-notch – notably, Orin’s dentist gang in ‘Be A Dentist’ and the side-splittingly funny Latin duet in ‘Mushnik and Son’.

The omnipresent narrators and girl group, Ronette (Christina Modestou), Crystal (Seyi Omooba) and Chiffon (Renée Lamb), are a highlight. While a fearsome unit as a group, individually all three can and do provide killer vocals throughout. Their opening number, ‘Prologue/Little Shop of Horrors’, sets a very strong foundation on which the rest of the show thrives.

There are some strong performances here, with Marc Antolin well-cast as the hapless assistant on a power trip Seymour, Jemima Rooper endearing as his colleague and love interest Audrey and Forbes Masson suitably exploitative as shop owner Mr Mushnik.  Matt Willis makes every moment he’s on stage count as Orin, offering a rock star audacity to the sadist dentist. Meanwhile, Vicky Vox is utterly fabulous as the outrageously demanding Audrey II, a powerhouse plant with diva delivery. The reimagining of Audrey II as a hungry Drag Queen is one of the show’s wittiest moves and perfectly in keeping with 2018. Audrey II oozes excitement and danger, dragging Seymour under her spell as she slowly takes engulfs the stage and show.

Despite all its eccentricity, Little Shop of Horrors is at heart a story of poverty and the desperation to be free of one’s circumstances. Seymour goes to new levels to achieve what he wants, with the help of Audrey II – slowly abandoning a moral compass as he services his own greed and desire and unwittingly allowing Audrey II to thrive. As Seymour weakens, Audrey II flourishes, eventually becoming strong enough to destroy the world. It’s still an interesting social commentary in 2018, where explicit morals in musicals might be seen as old-fashioned. Here, it gives the show a focus and strength.

That said, this is a 1960s story and at times it is difficult to ignore the signs of age. I cannot feel comfortable with all the references to (and overt performance of) domestic abuse, even if the perpetrator later meets his comeuppance. This is true both of Orin’s treatment of Audrey, but also in Mr Mushnik’s exploitation of Seymour. While attempts have been made to limit the unsavoury aspects of these relationships, they are still enough to provoke discomfort. In addition, despite the presence of a Drag Queen plant, some of the dialogue and plot still feels boringly heteronormative. Could more be done to update and adapt Little Shop? Possibly, yes.

The Open Air Theatre’s stunning new revival of Little Shop of Horrors is a feast for the eyes and ears, visually beautiful and packed with punchy performances from a sensational cast. It is easily one of the better recent productions of the show, although it isn’t as on top of the times as 2018 needs.

 

 

~ a guest review by Susy Brett