Tue 9 Apr

“…hilarious and utterly bonkers” by Ken Powell

Northern Arts Review, all things theatre in the North, review Little Shop of Horrors at Theatre by the Lake

It’s mean, it’s green and it has to be seen. It can only be the musical mayhem guaranteed to make you think twice before gardening. And it is here in Cumbria, ready to be unleashed on the good folk of Keswick.

Theatre by the Lake (TBTL) loves to give its audience a wide variety of artistic delights each season and so it was inevitable that, sooner or later, they would put on this most bizarre of comedy musicals. In my opinion, about time too. It is one of the best musicals around.

For those of you who have been living under a plant pot all this time, the story revolves around wimpy Seymour (Oliver Mawdsley), the orphan kid who has grown up on Skid Row, used and abused by plant shop owner, Mr Mushnik (Andrew Whitehead). The only delight in Seymour’s otherwise dreary life is Audrey (Laura Jane Matthewson), who also works at the shop. It is a dead-end life under Seymour comes across a most ‘strange and unusual plant’ that will change his life; but at a bloody cost.

The musical is packed with wonderful songs that are instant earworms and abound with joy even when the story is at its most monstrous. The action on the stage is continuous with never a (ahem) dead moment.

“It’s hilarious and utterly bonkers”

There is mild gore, surprisingly mild consider the nature of the horror that lurks in the shop, and hints of violence, but so brilliantly done that older children could attend without much of a qualm. Indeed, this is a super introduction to theatre for those who aren’t squeamish. It is flawlessly fun. A warning to anyone who has only seen the movie version, though: the ending is not the movie ending.

While this production doesn’t have the strongest cast I’ve seen at TBTL and there are one or two minor wrinkles with sound levels to iron out (particularly with being able to hear Seymour’s voice), you can’t really go wrong with this musical.

“Both halves of the show are full of laughter and songs that make you bop, right to the very end”

Anton Stephans is excellent as the voice of Audrey II (the plant, for the uninitiated) and captures the character perfectly. Oliver Mawdsley does an admirable job as the cowardly-yet-heroic Seymour. Likewise, Andrew Whitehead makes a believably dastardly Mr Mushnik. Of course, you can’t have a Little Shop of Horrors without a sadistic Orin Scrivello and Matthew Ganley does a cracking job of making us both love and hate this character.

Hats off to TK Hay and team for the set and costume design. It isn’t easy presenting multiple settings in one static stage (I was expecting the main set to revolve) but Hay managed it without the constantly busy and packed stage feeling cramped. Likewise, the unsung hero for this production is Michael Fowkes who designed and directed the puppetry. If ever there’s a show that hangs by the ability to suspend disbelief, it is this one. Controlled by Matthew Heywood (who also gets to be seen ‘in the flesh’ as it were), the puppet was so good, it was creepy watching it eyeing up the audience before the second act. I could swear it was salivating.

“So, this is a great start to the season for TBTL, with some more super shows promised for the whole of the rest of the year”

With the Easter break upon us, it is an ideal time to visit Keswick and enjoy some wickedly monstrous delights. My suspicion is that this show will sell out soon, so get your tickets before they’re all eaten up!

Little Shop of Horrors is showing at Theatre by the Lake until Saturday 20 April 2024. To find out more call the Box Office on 017687 74411 or visit www.theatrebythelake.com.

To read more Northern Arts Reviews by Ken Powell.