The Festival Players’ second show of 2008 saw them visit a new venue, the Robinson Theatre on Hills Road, to put on Menken and Ashman’s show about a plant that feeds on human blood.
Director Suzanne Emerson
Musical Director Andrew Taylor
Costume Design Liz Milway
Varsity – 4 stars
The hairstyles were spot on, the accents wonderfully clichéd and the cast inspiringly enthusiastic. With these ingredients, Suzanne Emerson’s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ could never go far wrong. The popular cult musical follows the fortunes of Seymour and his human-devouring, insatiably hungry, hip-hopping plant, Audrey II – ‘catchy name, I like it’. After acquiring this ‘strange and interesting’ plant, Seymour is catapulted to fame but the plant proves to be more than a little demanding and Seymour has to make some difficult choices. Since its release as a low-budget b-movie in the 1960s, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ has gained a strong cult following. The score has so many well placed lines and such a plethora of catchy songs that the play can almost perform itself and is a gift to amateur theatricals everywhere.
In this, the festival players’ version, Thomas O’Connor as Seymour strikes the right nervously nerdy note and Davinia Denham’s Audrey is pitched at just the right level of cliché. The three girls, Ronnette, Chiffon and Crystal (Lea Chambers, Rachel Bye and Melody White), provide polished and witty performances in their role as chorus and narrator and Mark Bak’s sadistic dentist, Orin, is pleasingly demonic and melodramatic. All the cast sing well, if a little tentatively at times and each actor, without exception, embraces the spirit of the bizarre musical. The stage belongs, however, to the plant. Emerson’s production sees the plant encroaching onto more and more of the set while Oliver Fisher (as the plant itself) sits enthroned in tendrils in the centre of a giant pot. Each time a character is devoured, Fisher’s plant contraption gives birth to a new shoot – with appropriately grotesque sounds effects. Fisher writhes, gestures and sings with gusto, clearly revelling in such a deliciously outrageous part.
The performance had its weaknesses but few that weren’t attributable to first-night jitters, (sound balance, tentativeness, for example). In this production, Suzanne Emerson has created a light-hearted, competent and highly enjoyable amateur performance of a hilarious show. It may not live up to the original 1960s film, or the 1980s remake, but it is an enthusiastic and visually effective tribute to Charles B Griffiths’ work. This show is worth a trip – if only to catch a glimpse of the ‘mean green mother from outer space’ for yourself. Just remember: ‘DON’T FEED THE PLANTS!’
The Robinson Theatre at Hills Road Sixth Form College is not a venue that one would think suitable for a show like The Little Shop of Horrors. Nevertheless this is where Festival Players chose to perform the show and it worked extremely well in the space, with a clever set using two-thirds of the acting area leaving room for the skilful ‘band’, led by Musical Director Andrew Taylor, to be in full view yet seemingly unobtrusive.
The plot, as you probably know, revolves around Seymour, a nerdy, timid employee in Mushnik’s, a skid row flower shop, who takes great pains to care for a hybrid plant of his own creation, which he names Audrey II, as his heart belongs to his work colleague Audrey whose masochistic bent keeps her in emotional bondage to Orin a sadistic laughing gas-addicted dentist.
To bullying shop keeper Mushnik’s delight, business picks up as the plant grows and draws attention from the paying public. But what price fame and fortune when Seymour discovers that the plant needs human blood to survive?
Enter the odious Orin, every child’s nightmare of a dentist — he inhales the laughing gas himself before torturing his charges with a dull drill. That’s not to mention the black eye he gives to his girlfriend Audrey — which an oblivious Seymour mistakes for “nice, new eye makeup”. Seymour decides that if anyone deserves to be plant fodder it is Orin! And that is just the beginning of The Plant’s insatiable hunger for human blood.
Colin Fish was marvellous as the bully Mushnik, particularly when he realises he needs Seymour as his plant causes business to bloom so he ‘adopts’ Seymour leading to the highly amusing song and dance “Mushnik and Son”
Mark Bak as Orin threw himself into his role with both abandon and, seemingly, great enjoyment. His shared duet with Seymour “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” in the dental surgery was absolutely macabre and probably gave some of the younger members of the audience bad dreams that night!
Sporting a real life injury caused, I understand, by the people-eating plant at the dress rehearsal – but which was totally in keeping with the script: Davinia Denham was delightful as the cheap and flashy Audrey keeping her really irritating voice going throughout. Her delightful humourous yet plaintive duet with Seymour in “Suddenly, Seymour” was, for me, a highlight of the show.
Thomas O’Connor was well cast and did a tremendous job of Seymour. Maintaining his focus throughout. He was the perfect foil for Mushnik, created a wonderfully bumbling relationship with Audrey and was extremely funny when endeavouring to shoot Orin.
The leads were skilfully backed by Lea Chambers, Rachel Bye, and Melody White as Ronnette, Crystal and Chiffon — three girls who help the story along by breaking into song at appropriate intervals. Excellent singers all. Great to listen to and a pleasure to watch. Completing the ‘human’ cast was Jenni French playing a variety of roles in a variety of costumes all totally believable.
Of course, the scene-stealer is naturally The Plant. Here I got a shock. Director Sue Emerson decided to play down the comedic and go for B movie horror. I was expecting the usual enormous puppet and what did I get? Oliver Fisher as a real man-eating plant. He was truly scary. Although rooted to the spot he used his voice and upper body to bring to life Seymour’s hybrid plant. An excellent performance.
This was a relatively small cast by Festival Players’ standards, but they weren’t small on talent by any means. The acting and singing were excellent. This review would not be complete without complimenting Mike Ruddin, Rob Humphreys and the other members of the Penguin Club who created such a grotesquely horrible plant. Congratulations to all involved on a great show.