Published on Whats On Stage 5th May 2015.
Little Shop of Horrors, so long a staple for school groups and youth theatres across the country, is now in vogue with regional theatres; this is the second production in a matter of months, following Manchester Royal Exchange’s well reviewed Christmas production.
You can understand why; Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s loving b-movie pastiche of a plant that helps grow geeky, endearing Seymour’s fame whilst demanding to be fed is entertaining unchallenging fare with some cracking tunes to boot. In this Salisbury Playhouse and Colchester Mercury Theatre co-production the fun is revealed in increments but the production can be a little too workmanlike – a little less fun then it should be.
Some of this is down to the rather strange decision in Gareth Machin’s production to ask the actors to play it with a straight bat. There is method in the idea that the best comedy is played when the actors are truthful to the situation they find themselves in, but the book by Ashman is too indebted to those camp 1950’s movies for that treatment to work here. Many lines guaranteed to draw a chuckle seem to float into the ether.
Worse, the cast don’t seem to realise a laugh was even meant to be there. The biggest culprit for this is Francis McNamee as Audrey. Though it’s refreshing to see a performance that isn’t indebted to Ellen Green from the film, she seems uncomfortable in the role, playing her less ditzy, more in control and consequently exposing less of the innocence and the comedy of the character. She is a fine actress and her numbers are delivered with aplomb but you can’t help feeling she has been miscast here.
Simeon Truby as the Jewish flower shop proprietor and Jez Unwin as the sadistic dentist both have more fun and consequently run away with it whilst Ben Stott is a winning Seymour, capturing just the right gawky, geeky qualities whose yearning for the girl and a family to call his own seems to finally be coming together as he comes to a Faustian pact with the man-eating plant, Audrey II.
What ultimately makes Little Shop worth recommending is the tunes. Comprising songs influenced from 50’s rock and roll, doo-wop and Motown, they bleed into your conscience. Beware: you’ll be humming nothing else for days.
Under the musical direction of Richard Reeday the cast deliver their vocals with a confidence occasionally lacking in the staging. Stott and McNamee deliver a wistful “Suddenly Seymour”, Leon Craig’s voice has plenty of heft as the carnivorous plant and Karis Jack, Gbemisola Ikumelo and Carole Stennett offer sass and bounce as the street urchin chorus.
Little Shop of Horrors runs at Salibury Playhouse until 16 May, before transferring to the Mercury Theatre in Colchester where it runs from 27 May to 13 June