Fri 29 Mar

Don’t feed the plants!

Eileen Jones from Stagey Lady, reviews and previews beyond the West End gives us a delicious taste of what to expect from Little Shop of Horrors!

When I was teaching at a northern university, I had a very large houseplant which lived outside my office door. It bore an enormous plant label with its name: Audrey III, and I waited for years for an enlightened undergraduate to walk into the room and sing me a line. Or at least laugh. They’d have been awarded a first on the spot. It happened just once.

‘This is a show of its time that’s withstood the test of time’

Why did they not know this? It’s the ultimate horror story, a plant that will eat humans in its desire for blood, a witless florist prepared to feed the plant’s desires, a sadistic dentist who gets his come-uppance in his very own surgery. Or is it? Is Little Shop instead a fable about greed and consumerism, the perils of getting what you wished for?

Well. I’ve wished for this for a very long time, and it’s the most priceless fun with no peril to be seen. Our very own precious Theatre by the Lake staging one of my favourite musicals of all time! Why, if I keep on wishing hard enough they’ll stage Chess, and Once, next year.

But back to Mr Mushnik’s shop in this terrific new staging directed by Lotte Wakeham in a joint production with Octagon Theatre Bolton, Hull Truck Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre. It’s such a clever, witty, weird and wonderful piece of theatre, and this brilliant cast, led by Oliver Mawdsley as Seymour, and Laura Jane Matthewson as Audrey, deliver a production full of gory glory.

Audrey II is the most compelling star on this stage, and if we only hear the voice of Anton Stephans, well doesn’t he just have the best line ever: “Feed, me Seymour, feed me all night long”. Though he does appear in other roles occasionally, and leads a fantastic finale routine. Matthew Heywood pulls the strings ( and the guitar strings, too); this plant really does come to life, and I love the way that TBTL have been using puppetry over the last few years. (We once saw a production at Regent’s Park Theatre where Audrey II was played as a drag queen who wandered among the audience. )

Will everyone realise just how clever and witty? You need to be of a certain age to know that the backing girls who “Da Doo” and harmonise gloriously throughout … Janna May , Chardai Shaw and Zweyla Mitchell dos Santos …are called Chiffon, Ronnette and Crystal, which are (of course you knew) three girl groups out of New York in the 1960s. Oh, hello Zweyla, ( what a voice! ) who went to school with my boys.

Who, I digress again, were the first ones to introduce me to Little Shop when their youth theatre staged it. They were very young, and I was initially alarmed, until a rather intellectual friend said that it was their family’s favourite movie of all time, and I started to pay close attention. And it was through my boys wanting to be on stage that I was sucked into the world of musical theatre and so, Seymour and Audrey, thank you for changing my life.

But Audrey I and Seymour also have a compellingly odd chemistry, and there a perfectly balanced combination of pathos and humour in her big balled, Somewhere That’s Green.

Mr Mushnik, heartless shop owner, is played by Andrew Whitehead, while Matthew Ganley gets to play the real true villain of the piece, Orin the dentist. Here he is folks, the leader of the plaque. “I thrill when I drill a bicuspid, It’s swell though they tell me I’m maladjusted”. He has other roles too, as the succession of media moguls trying to sign up Seymour’s success story.

But above all else, this is a classic musical with wonderfully memorable melodies, jazz and blues beats, and a script whose cultural references have been left intact as a tribute to the gorgeous period piece that it is. So what if many in the audience are left wondering who is Betty Crocker and Donna Reed, and ‘Lucy’? This is a show of its time that’s withstood the test of time.

And who knew that death, destruction, and a threat to the entire human race could be at the heart of the best night out at the theatre.

‘It’s absolutely wonderful; who needs laughing gas with a show like this’

Little Shop of Horrors runs at TBTL until April 20. For tickets and details keep scrolling down.

About Stagey Lady
Reviews and previews from the West End and beyond. Happy to encourage new writing/ staging. And happy to invite guest reviewers. Get in touch please.