After the original highest-grossing Off-Broadway black-comedy musical in 1982, Little Shop of Horrors returns to the stage with a huge success. Set in Skid Row in New York, the story centres on orphan shop assistant, Seymour, who works for the money-oriented Mushnik in his run-down flower shop. Business needs a lift, and when Seymour displays an exotic strange-looking plant at the shop window, customers begin flooding in for a glimpse of it. Seymour gains fame and the girl he desires—Audrey, his fashionable and kind-hearted co-worker at the flower shop who dates the sadist dentist Orin. Despite the booming business, no one knows that the orchid flourishes on human flesh and blood. As it grows into a giant green monster, Seymour struggles with upholding his moral principles and leans towards personal vengeance and career success as he feeds his competitor and enemy to the man-eating plant. Just as Seymour thinks life is finally brightening up, the plant lures Audrey into its jaws. Shortly after, Patrick Martin from the World Botanical Enterprises proposes to Seymour his plan of cutting and selling the plant’s leaves. Realising the plant’s conspiracy to conquer the earth, the devastated Seymour jumps into the green monster’s maw with a machete but is only consumed alive. As the seedlings of the parent plant are sold across America, they tempt their owners to feed them in exchange for fame and fortune.
Like its iconic giant carnivorous orchid, Maria Aberg’s Little Shop of Horrors is just as bizarre, grandiose in scale and, weirdly, loved by the audience. The show commences with an explosive opening of harmonious singing and synchronised dancing by Ronnette (Christina Modestou), Crystal (Seyi Omooba) and Chiffon (Renée Lamb), who set the bar high for the rest of the performance. The other cast members do not fail to deliver an equally captivating performance. Marc Antolin’s and Forbes Masson’s on-point portrayal of Seymour and Mushnik fully capture the orphan’s geekiness as a florist, shyness as a lover, and despair in his moral struggle as well as the miser’s crankiness and farcical personality. Mat Willis, similarly, is a force to be reckoned with as he depicts Orin’s lust for torture with an intensity that makes his character funny and yet grippingly terrifying at the same time.
Jemima Rooper who plays Audrey, in particular, is the star of the night. The dimension of her vocals offers her character much depth as Audrey exudes both ebullience as a slightly awkward downtown girl and pain in pining for the broken dream of a blissful family life. Her excellent singing with expert control of volume, vibrato and emotion, demonstrated especially in her solo performance of ‘Somewhere that’s Green’, together with her convincing imitation of Audrey’s way of speaking and walking vivify this much-adored character and make her death in Act II an exceptionally heart-breaking moment.
Howard Ashman’s lyrics and Charles Griffith’s screenplay, needless to say, captivate the audience with both black humour and touching moments as Audrey reveals the unglamourous side of her life and sacrifices herself to raise Seymour from the dirt. Moreover, the combination with stage effects of the smell and sight of smoke when the plant feeds on Orin, the full use of the space on stage as characters (and the plant) jump and hide from literally all directions on and off stage (in the auditorium) as well as the lighting that dazzles make the whole performance an immersive two-hour enjoyment.
It is only fitting for the show to end with giant balls rolling on to the auditorium and green confetti falling on to the audience, for not only is the audience ‘entwined’ by the man-eater’s tendrils, it is also a celebration of the show being the embodiment of theatrical triumph which we still cheer after more than three decades.
- By Maria Aberg
- Directed by Maria Aberg
- Book & Lyrics: Howard Ashman
- Choreography by Lizzi Gee
- Music by Alan Menken
- Cast includes: Joe Allen, Marc Antolin, Josh Baker, Billy Cullum, Julian Hoult, Rosalind James, Renée Lamb, Bobbie Little, Forbes Masson, Christina Modestou, Seyi Omooba, Jemima Rooper, Helen Siveter, Mary Lynn Tiep, Vicky Vox, Matt Willis
- Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
- Until 22 September 2018