Two things come to mind whenever someone mentions Little Shop of Horrors: amateur productions (sometimes good, but mostly bad) and Steve Martin cruising around on a motorbike and singing about dentistry. Well, that’s what comes to mind for me anyway.
Inspired by a 1960 black comedy of the same name, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken wrote Little Shop of Horrors in 1982. After a five year Off-Broadway run, Frank Oz adapted the musical into the well-known film starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin. There are differences between the 1986 film version and the stage adaptation; something I was not entirely prepared for when I settled into Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to watch Maria Aberg’s latest production.
The show dazzles before we even see the actors; the set is exquisite and designer Tom Scutt has not overlooked a single detail. A broken drive-in theatre sign looms above the black, grey and white cityscape. The first few notes of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ plays and Renee Lamb, Christina Modestou and Seyi Omooba catapult the show into action as street urchins Chiffon, Ronnette and Crystal respectively. They inject energy into the show from the start, and their stamina is especially impressive considering they are on stage for almost the entire show. The ensemble, whose costumes match the grey downtown background, push around trolleys of plastic bags, rubbish and skyscrapers, creating the landscape of a dilapidated and forgotten Skid Row.
Stuart Burt’s casting has to be commended; Marc Antolin and Jemima Rooper as Seymour and Audrey are both immediately likable and clearly have chemistry. As meek and bumbling botanic fanatic, Antolin is sublime and instantly wins the audience over even as he carries out somewhat shady dealings. Rooper, a familiar TV face, breathes new life into Audrey transforming from a walking damsel in distress to a woman with depth and crippling low self-image. Matt Willis, of Busted fame, is deliciously dastardly as Orin, the sadistic rock and roll dentist boyfriend of Audrey. Although the ensemble seem to initially overshadow him energetically, his performance during ‘Now (It’s Just The Gas)’ sets him back on course and he delivers in a variety of minor roles later in the show.
It seems apt that a musical about plants should be performed against such a botanical backdrop, but to my delight the plants in the show are not plants at all, mostly a collection of green household objects (some of them a little peculiar and a source of amusement for the older audience members!) The most spectacular of these non-plants comes in the form of the show’s star. In a radical departure from previous revivals and stroke of genius, Aberg has cast American drag queen Vicky Vox in the role of Audrey II. Unaware of the chaos she is causing, Vox glides confidently about the stage leaving the audience under no delusion about who is really in control. A simple eyebrow raise or flick of the wrist and she has the audience in stitches, indeed the show often sends the audience into fits of laughter.
If you are looking for a joyously over the top show, then look no further. Thoroughly enjoyable and well executed, it’ll be hard to find a production of this classic musical that will ever delight and amaze as much as this one.
Little Shop of Horrors is playing Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 22 September. For more information and tickets, click here.
Photo: Johan Persson