I just love Little Shop of Horrors. There’s something innocently and hilariously macabre about the whole musical, and the score is just jauntily addictive. This is my fourth outing seeing Audrey II in all its glory, but my first at the Brewhouse Art Centre, an absolute little gem of a theatre which I was surprised to hear is not as well known in the Burton Upon Trent area as it should be with people unaware that there is even a theatre in the heart of the town. The upcoming catalogue is a bit of a dream with The Wizard of Oz, Avenue Q, Spamalot and Private Peaceful all headlining this season. I, for one, am looking forward to being invited back to review at this splendid little theatre…especially if the quality of the productions is anything like that which I am experiencing tonight.
From the first beats of the first track, I’m smiling! It’s familiar, it’s comfortable and I know I’m in for a rip-roaring time. Little Shop of Horrors tells the tale of the sweet but down-on-his-luck Seymour (Daniel Carter) who comes across an unknown exotic plant and displays it in the flower shop in which he works with his adoptive father, Mr Mushnik (Phil Simcox) and the woman who has stolen his little heart, Audrey (Kate French). Imagine Seymour’s shock when the plant starts talking to him, demanding that he feed it (no spoiler alerts) something that that will change not only Seymour’s life, but will change the entire world (cue evil laugh).
First of all, I have to say that these three principal parts, along with Orin (Ross Harris) were absolutely perfectly cast by the production team: Chris Moss (Director), Charlotte Daniel (Musical Director) and Sally Everson (Choreographer). Carter is sweet and bashful as the rather nerdy Seymour who tries so hard to win the love of his life, even naming a psychotic plant from another planet after her. Carter is able to bring out Seymour’s fear and loathing just as easily as his lovelorn and loveable persona. Simcox plays a big character in Mr Mushnik and the audience is definitely deceived by his presentation of a fatherly figure to both Seymour and Audrey – it’s not until later on that we hear how mistreated Seymour has been at his hands; the upbeat crowd pleaser “Mushnik and Son” whilst excellently performed with fabulous comedy and wonderful choreography, is actually very dark when we consider how Seymour is being gaslighted by Mushnik.
The most laugh out loud moments come because of the wonderfully overexaggerated acting of Ross Harris. The role of Orin, the sadistic dentist who beats our adorable Audrey, is one that definitely needs strong presence and the ability for an audience to love and hate the character at the same time, and Harris definitely brings this to the table. From his initial cool, macho persona to the misogynist boyfriend, to the cruel, pain-loving dentist to one who laughs his last laugh (literally), the audience enjoy his time on stage and relish in his demise. Laughing along with Orin is a staple of this production, and I can definitely see shoulder shaking laughter in the audience along with one almighty collective jump of fear.
Audrey is wonderfully written character, but in past productions I’ve seen, there’s been a tendency to overblow her character, to have her be a loud high-pitched and squawky New Yorker, and I am so pleased to see that Chris Moss takes a different direction, choosing to soften the character and focus on her vulnerabilities rather than the mask that she build up for self-protection. “Somewhere that’s Green” is beautiful – and I mean everything about it. Having Audrey seated at the side of the stage, rather than standing centre stage is a great choice. French acted and meant every word in this song without any showmanship or hyperbole. It is gentle and for me, one of the highlights of the show – I am definitely fighting off the tears by the end note, but I’m fighting off a different emotion when Audrey is emotionally and physically abused by Orin, and this is due to French’s realistic portrayal of a woman who has been beaten down to nothing. I hate seeing her slouch off stage with her head down – Audrey deserves better than this. She deserves a Seymour and during “Suddenly Seymour”, I find myself watching Seymour and Audrey and thinking “those two are just the sweetest” as the admiration and affection between them is displayed for all to see. The chemistry between the two actors is spot on.
The Ronettes, Andrea Osborne, Lauren Bishop and Ashleigh Dudson, who are playing the part of a Greek chorus punctuating each part of the story with their thoughts, have some wonderful harmonies through this production, with “Downtown (Skidrow)” being a highlight here, and bring a real lightness to the stage with their choreography and energy. Almost the opposite can be said for the crazy and malicious plant – the movement and vocals of Audrey II bring a delicious darkness to the stage and the audience relish it. This is the first time for me that Audrey II has had a female voice, so this takes me a while to get used to, but my oh my does Hilary Leam have range and soul. The voice and comic timing of Audrey II is so important to the mood of the show and Leam is spot on.
Little Shop of Horrors is musical comedy at it’s very best – but hidden behind the mirth, the serious themes of the domestic abuse, drug use, murder and unthinking progression for one’s own gain are explored with warnings for all.
People of Burton Upon Trent, please head on down to The Brewhouse Arts Centre to visit Mushnik’s Flower Shop before it closes forever on Saturday February 11th. Trust me, you’re in for a bloody good time!