Little Shop of Horrors

Tue 1st – Sat 5th November 2016

reviews

Jessie Davidson

at 00:52 on 2nd Nov 2016

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Little Shop of Horrors is a wacky play with a talented cast of singers. It will have you alternately laughing and raising your eyebrows with concern.

The plot sticks close to that of the stage play. Seymour, a down and out but lovable resident of the seedy area Skid Row, falls for a girl whilst raising a cannibalistic plant with hopes of world domination. Interspersed with catchy musical numbers which both add to and withdraw from the zaniness of the plot, it makes for a raucous evening of entertainment.

The acting is impressive all round, with excellent performances from the leads. From the shy Seymour (Adam Mirsky) bending to the contradictory plans of his employer, to the sweet but lovelorn Audrey (Olivia Gaunt) falling for the sadistic dentist (Ben Cisneros), a marvellous range of characterisation is displayed. New York accents are well imitated, only occasionally slipping back to British, and are remarkably similar to those of the film, down to Audrey’s gentle lisp. Meanwhile Stanley Thomas brilliantly captures the miserly and hypocritical but weirdly lovable Mushnik, with his brilliant one liners (“Between you and me, neither is the Audrey one”). Yet one must remember that such moments of comedy are taken from the film; this production does little in the way of originality.

The cast were clearly selected mostly for their singing abilities, and it is in this that they excel. Many are talented singers, notably the three dancing girls (Holly Musgrave, Clara van Wel and Sophie Foote), who, although really part of the chorus, have as many, or more, vocals than the leads. They perform stunning harmonies, in the opening song “Little Shop of Horrors” for instance, as well as providing impressive backing vocals. Fabulous and flirtatious, they add a lot to the livelihood and comedy of the production.

Musical numbers proliferate the play, adding at some points comedy and at other points weight to the characters’ situations. Ben Cisneros, playing Orin, provides a wonderfully comic solo of a sadistic dentist with a talent for pain, stripping off his badass leather jacket to reveal a dentist’s garb underneath. Though this particular number adheres closely to the film, right down to the dentist’s slicked back hair, some of the best performed songs will be unknown to film lovers. “Mushnik and Son” is a hilarious duet performed by Mirsky and Thomas, which sees the miserly Mushnik suddenly professing his undying paternal love to his shop boy, ending in them both cantering round the stage in ballroom hold.

The main focus being on the acting and music, the staging plays somewhat a background role, yet the set it nonetheless ambitious (if slightly flimsy looking). A turning mechanism is cleverly employed to switch between the shop front and its inside, with minimal disruption to the action. Aiming for a realistic look, however, the painted construction naturally falls short its real life counterparts. Some aspects of the staging, such as the neon sign, capture well the essence of the show’s seedy setting, yet the front of the stage feels uncannily empty, the few bits of newspaper scattered about adding only an element of artificiality.

The most eye-catching prop is the giant plant, growing throughout, which dominates the stage with its welling purple lips and teeth. From an auditory as well as a visual perspective, it is a complete success, its soulful voice done wonderfully by Megan Gilbert. The decision to cast it as female adds an interesting sexual dynamic to the plant’s interactions with the story’s hero (and later its heroine). Yet on a practical level, its engulfing of several characters on stage was poorly executed; it was clear that the actors, in particular Gaunt, were working hard to create a realistic effect of being eaten, with little success.

A fabulously weird and wonderful musical, Little Shop of Horrors manages to combine catchy songs with brilliant humour, whilst still slightly freaking you out. This production is not original, and hasn’t done much to distinguish it from other productions of the musical. Yet despite this, as well as some minor staging flaws and technical issues, the show is still more than capable of providing an evening of fun.

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