StoryHouse Live! Chester – until Sunday June 2nd 2019
Reviewed by Julie Noller
Most of us would know Little Shop of Horrors from the 1986 cult classic film not to mention it was the era of video bringing film and music to the masses at home, however you could be forgiven for not realising the Frank Oz directed film was in fact an adaption itself of the off Broadway musical comedy hit of the same name. Originally written and composed by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken it tells the tale of a geeky florist shop owner who discovers that his venus flytrap can speak, sounds simple enough. However put into context that it is all based on a 1960 low budget science fiction film and you realise that anything can happen.
The 1960s when black and white became colour, where people discovered freedom to speak their voice despite race or background. The American Dream was long ingrained and Little Shop of Horrors has it in abundance. With a direct quote from Alex Clifton, Art Director of Storyhouse ‘this is a joyous musical, telling a story of young love and killer plants. It’s very funny’ This made by Storyhouse production is deliciously kitsch and utilises the intimate thrust stage to bring us the audience even loser to the action…. If we dare.
I’ve read lots of opinions regarding Little Shop of Horrors, what is it really about? I think ultimately that’s for you to decide. Set in the era of fear over communism, the race into space, the after years following the economic crashes and world wars. Some say it’s based on a Greek tradegy, I saw flashes that hinted at seven deadly sins, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony,envy, pride and sloth. They all play their part in this brilliant retelling of a modern theatrical comedy classic.
It’s intriguing to be so close to the action almost part of the stage set, your eyes dart everywhere, desperately hoping not to miss any part of the action. It’s obvious it’s a rare treat to see the actors on stage performing equally – no one singer stands out above others, they all gel and give as much as the song requires. The pure abandonment of enjoyment is plain to see and the audience lap it up.
This is Director Stephen Mear’s first production at Storyhouse and I certainly hope this won’t be his last. He promised a few shocks and surprises and the squeals and laughter are the proof he succeeded with that brief.
Chiffon, Ronette and Crystal (Cindy Belliot, Emily-Mae and Tanisha Spring) are sassy with extra umph as the three grade school drop outs selling secrets for a fast buck, at one point I feared for their safety as they climbed down a ladder from the upper floor onto the stage.
Mr Mushnik (Tony Timberlake) a man who exploits a young man for his own greed, it touches on modern day slavery and is sad to see how exchanging an orphanage for sleeping on a shop floor is seen as betterment. Poor delicate Audrey (Michelle Bishop) who is doomed in a star crossed lover way, such a voice within a tiny frame, the audience loved her and winced at every black eye, every broken bone. Willing her into the arms of fellow flower shop worker turned owner Seymour (Joshua Lay) he is convincing as a nerdy wannabe botanist, lovable and vulnerable you just want to scoop him up and cuddle him. His problem is that he knows it’s wrong but he can’t help himself. Seeking the approval of both Mr Mushnik and Audrey longing hopefully for their love. Sounds like the classic tale of boy loves girl and boy wins girl. But no Greek tragedy ended thus and this isn’t Hollywood.
There’s two other characters; firstly Orin (Stephane Anelli) who’s turn as gas sniffing, sadistic dentist is in fact the show stealing character, he’s camp with a hint of Elvis and we can’t write a review without mentioning that motorbike cum dentist chair it’s genius. He also plays numerous other characters blink and you may miss his bag lady, lisping university agent, camp Dame Ednaesque magazine editor. He played the part and audience to perfection, from those naughty one liners to eye popping hip thrusts. Audrey II has a few changes from small venus fly trap plant to murderous greedy monster. Theres fake arms as Joshua Lay is puppet master that is slightly ridiculous but nothing is hidden and you see the humour. Brett Shiels and Ryan O’Gorman received well deserved applause as puppet and voice of Audery II. Audery II the green machine, demanding to be fed, trading deals like the devil collected souls. Is it a coincidence that Audrey II is green like cash is green? After all the saying is that money talks.
There is poor Seymour’s mental state, a break down and attacking Audrey II with an axe do not stop this alien plant on it’s journey to ultimate world domination. You see where Little Shop of Horrors belongs in the world of musical theatre, it’s story has itself influenced many films and shows from Gremlins to Avenue Q.
If you need a reminder of the short comings of humanity or just want to enjoy a superb show that has abundance of laughter and the odd surprise to keep you on your toes then Little Shop of Horrors at Storyhouse should be your night or afternoon matinee of choice