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Little Shop of Horrors

21 October 2017

An All Consuming Passion !

Little Shop of Horrors

by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman

Hounslow Light Opera Company at Hampton Hill Theatre until 21st October

Review by Quinten Weiver 

A gargantuan dionaea, or some sort of droseraceae on steroids, is living in the Hampton Hill Theatre … and it needs feeding!

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Hounslow Light Opera Company dangerously brings an eclectically mixed bunch of comedy, horror, thriller, song and dance in the form of a Little Shop of Horrors, a seedy (no pun intended) 1970s New York florist’s shop, to the gentile purlieus of Hampton.  Being in the poorest part of town (NY not Hampton), and on Skid Row at that, where more money is spent on gin than on gerberas, Mr Mushnik’s shop is not flourishing; witness the lack of stock (or stocks … of any sort of flora).  Poor Mr M, an asthmatic Jewish florist is himself going to seed.   However, Seymour, his timid but loyal shop assistant and general factotum, has a secret hobby, raising hitherto-fore unknown species of carnivorous plants; and now he is germinating an idea to make Mushnik’s floristry business blossom again.

The set, by the director Bill Compton (better known for his inspired productions with Youth Action Theatre), has created a versatile set in three dimensions and two levels, which is first seen through a gauze, iridescent like a lupin in twilight, by a lighting team headed by designer Nigel Lewis.   Set and lighting hold lots of surprises … plus a five-piece band (two keyboards, two guitars and percussion) under award-winning musical director Lee Dewsnap, who sets a lively pace to Menken’s score, a mixture of jazz, Motown and rock, whilst keeping a good balance with the singers.

Mushnik’s other assistant is the young and appealing Audrey, for whom Seymour holds out a torch (and bunches of unsold floristry), but to no avail: Audrey is in thrall to another.  Both are low in self-esteem: Seymour because of his lack of education (notwithstanding his self-taught botany skills and pioneering horticultural techniques); Audrey because she has only known herself to be a victim of physical abuse.  And here for a while black comedy becomes black tragedy.

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Enter the spiky end of the love triangle, the super-sadistic, Harley riding, misogynistic, rock-dentist, Dr Orin.  Orin’s legal high is nitrous oxide, and appropriately it is laughing gas that brings black comedy to dentistry.   Audrey, in spite of herself, is entranced by Orin, both captive and captivated.  However when Seymour sees Orin mistreating Audrey, the worm turns.  Gun-toting Seymour ends up in the dentist’s chair, but in this surgery it is the dentist not the patient who has the gas.  But the gas mask gets stuck and, gasping in the giggle-gas, the dope-head dies in an overdose of dopamine and an under-dose of fresh air.

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The part of Orin cannot be underplayed, and Michael Greatorex gives the role a full Harley Davidson tyre-burn.  Elvis-hipped, with sadistic smiles, he works up a lather in leather.  It’s songs all the way, Dentist! , at his God’s-gift entrance, to It’s Just the Gas at his bizarre demise.

The young lovers are well cast with strong vocal skills.  Jack Walford hits the spot exactly as the lovelorn Seymour.  Clad in striped tank-top, complete with moth-hole, he arrives as the little-boy-lost.  Grow for Me is assured in its accurate singing.  He tracks Seymour’s growing anxiety and helplessness as he realises he has sold his soul to the devil.   A relative newcomer, Walford is one to watch.    Joanna-Marie d’Oyly Chambers, who won a Swan nomination for her Yum-Yum with HLOC last season (See Georgia Renwick’s review Infectious and Delirious: The Mikado), gives a very touching performance as Audrey, beautifully portraying the character’s vulnerability.   Her impossible dream, Somewhere That’s Green sung with hope at the beginning of the story and then with resignation at her sacrificial ending is lyrically delivered and differentiated in mood.  As a couple, Walford and Chambers gell well, but for each there is a tendency to slip from acting into set-piece singing.

HLOC stalwart, Tony Cotterill, with a good line in Noo-Yark Yiddish, is very secure as Mushnik.  When Seymour becomes celebrated (and rich) from his floral excesses, Cotterill’s facial expressions say it all about Musnik’s duplicitous intentions in suddenly wanting to adopt his goy-boy assistant.

So on to Audrey II, who stole (some) of the show, source of Seymour’s wealth, and everybody’s downfall.  The back-room crossing of an exotic pseudo-flytrap plant get surreally interesting when it turns into a sentient triffid, after a drop of blood from a scratch on Seymour’s finger accidentally falls on the plant.  Then it become a vampire Venus, the nightmarish source of the eponymous Horrors.

Audrey II gets a lot of good songs too, Feed Me, Coda, and Sominex Suppertime ; oh yes, a singing plant that packs some punch.  More than punch too.  When the desperate Seymour feeds it the dismembered body (yes, this is a family show: Titus Andronicus eat your heart out) of Dr Orin, it develops an insatiable appetite for human flesh.  Oh, and some powerful, if totally unsubtle lines, “Cut the crap, bring on the meat!”.  And meat the power-plant gets, next Mushnik, then even more tragically the hapless Audrey.

Audrey II makes a nice visual gag that really works, due to the efforts of the puppeteer, Shaun Lati, from the celebrated Little Angel Theatre puppet theatre in Islington, who works with tireless physicality; to John Furlong, Audrey II’s voice, a rich pitch-shifted baritone; and to the unsung prop makers, who have created such fearful floristry.

The petrifying petals and shudder-inducing stamens of this ravenous botanical monster make the fortunes of Seymour as a new-found celebrity, who attracts the rich and famous (real people of mid-20th Century America played by the ensemble), and of Mushnik, as a host of new customers flocks (phlox … giddit?) to his shop.  But why did we not then see a plethora of overflowing florist’s buckets and all the flower shop accoutrements of frames and wires and ribbons and cellophane?   Perhaps they sold so quickly.

A clever touch, which Ashman wrote into this show, is the Greek-chorus-like trio of Crystal (Rae White), Ronette (Lindsey Carter) and Chiffon (Kirsten Johnson), bopping away as they comment or the actions, its reality and morality.  The redoubtable HLOC regulars give solid support as a well drilled ensemble who also play the minor roles.

Catch the show if you can.  It is a great one to watch from behind the sofa.  I came away pondering on the deeper psychological complexities behind this meeting of Dr John Faustus with Dr Sigmund Freud in John Wyndham land, but gave up.  After all, this is show where no disbelief cannot be suspended.  Though, it did have me reaching nervously for the Baby-Bio when I got home.

Quinten Weiver

October 2017

Photographs by Jo-Jo Leppink, Handwritten Photography

 

 

 

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From → Musicals, Reviews

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