As productions of Jack And The Beanstalk bring smiles to the faces of impressionable children across the country, it is an overgrown plant of a different size lightening the mood in horrific fashion at the Menier Chocolate Factory. This one doesn’t reach up to a giant’s wonderland in the sky; rather it sings, dances and has an insatiable taste for human blood. Matthew Amer attended the press night of Little Shop Of Horrors.
Little Shop has a lot to live up to. At the Menier it follows hits like Sunday In The Park With George and Tick, Tick, Boom. But the cast don’t let this pressure get to them, they simply doo wop their way through the pulp fiction, comic horror show with energy and a natural comedy.
Seymour is an orphan looked after/used as a slave by Mushnik, who owns a failing florist on Skid Row. His lack of friends means he has lots of time to spend with the plants, and one in particular, the ‘strange and interesting’ Audrey II. Of course, Audrey II is no ordinary plant, it needs human blood to survive. When it’s just a sapling this is no problem; it opens its mouth – if that is what it is called – like a baby bird, and a few finger pricks later, everybody’s happy. But as it grows – and grow it most certainly does – it needs more blood to feed its needs.
Matthew White’s production has humour everywhere, from Howard Ashman’s lyrics to Lynne Page’s choreography, which includes slow motion fighting and complete loss of bodily control. Multi award-winning designer David Farley (Sunday In The Park With George) provides a set that humbly evokes a scummy Skid Row, and the team behind Audrey II have produced a monster of a plant, to which Canadian comedian Mike McShane lends his variety of vocal talents.
There’s a real ease to the comic performances of the cast. Sheridan Smith, who is best known for her television comedy roles, delivers a ditzy, naïve Audrey – Mushnik’s shop assistant and Seymour’s secret crush – managing to balance the most comic lines with a touching sadness. Barry James’s Mushnik is a mumbling, crabby old man, out for everything he can get, while Paul Keating plays Seymour with a wide-eyed innocence, even when feeding body parts to a hungry six-foot shrub. Jasper Britton, who plays psychotic dentist Orin Scrivello and a host of other parts, imbues his main part with an eccentric madness while reining it in again elsewhere.
Possibly the most surprising performance of the night comes not from the leads, but from the chorus of Katie Kerr, Melitsa Nicola and Jenny Fitzpatrick, who turn up at windows and doors, or out on the street, at the most opportune moments, to narrate, comment, or provide some sharp backing vocals.
Little Shop Of Horrors: it’s the only show this Christmas where the evil giant is the beanstalk, and boasts more evil cackling per square inch than most of London’s pantos.