Book and Lyrics: Howard Ashman
Music: Alan Menken
Director: Tara Louis Wilkinson
Choreographer: Matthew Cole
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
In the 1930’s cinemas began showing two films at each session in a bid to hang onto audiences reduced by the Depression, and demand grew for cheap, quickly turned out films to support the main features. Thus the B-movie was born, becoming so successful that some companies specialised solely in such productions. At first, these were mainly Westerns and action films, but gradually there was a shift to horror and sci-fi, feeding on audience fascination and fear of the unknown. Improbable monsters featured heavily, and in 1960 Little Shop of Horrors opened its door to reveal, of all things, a murderous, giant, blood-sucking plant.
Audrey II might be a plant, and an ‘artificial’ one at that, but she’s certainly a main character in the cast onstage in the musical version of this now cult classic. Little Shop of Horrors at Sheffield Lyceum is a wonderful, quirky, fun-filled comedy show, with great characters, romance, murder and catchy songs. Basically, it’s a love story between an ordinary everyday guy who’d do anything to win the girl of his dreams, who works alongside him in a rundown flower shop in Skid Row, New York. The neighbourhood is seedy and desperate, the characters stuck in poverty and hopelessness, but they are open to temptation. There’s the girl who surreptitiously pops her newborn in a bin (but later retrieves him); the sadist-come-dentist who’s “paid to be inhumane”; the ‘flasher’ in the mucky mac; and of course Seymour who sources and feeds blood to a plant that can bring him fame and wealth. The scenery is gloomy and greenish, dank and dismal, with tawdry and tumbledown buildings and the sound of running water somewhere in the background. The aura created on the stage is impressive. Right down to the hopeless sign on the door of Mushnik’s flower shop proclaiming “Sorry we’re OPEN” or “Come In! We’re CLOSED”.
The actors have been perfectly cast. Maybe the first mention should go to the female trio who effectively run the action of the show. Crystal (Sasha Latoya), Chiffon (Vanessa Fisher) and Ronnette (Cassie Clare) are a kind of nod to the Supremes – but less clean cut – who sing in a wonderful Motown style. Their dancing and slick moves are amazing, and their costumes of mismatched checks, baseball jackets, and training shoes work brilliantly well on three individual girls. Audrey (the human version, played by Stephanie Clift) is a sweet girl who dreams of living in a cosy home Somewhere Green but thinks her tawdry past has ruined her chances of winning Seymour. She has wonderful facial expressions and wears beautiful, fitted, but ‘tarty’ dresses. Sam Lupton plays Seymour with an incredible innocence that totally exonerates the murderous tendency that emerges as he tries to satisfy Audrey II’s bloodlust. His “beg yer pardon” when the plant first speaks is priceless. Careworn Mr. Mushnik, aka veteran actor Paul Kissaun, is a shabbily dressed guy who just wants to make a living, to the extent that he’ll take Seymour as a son to get his hands on some of the ill-gotten botanical riches. Rhydian Roberts of X-Factor fame is the evil sadistic dentist Orin, with manic eyes, black leather jacket, plenty of blood staining and a rusty drill. His addiction to laughing gas, delivered via a comical spaceman globe helmet, coupled with his abuse of girlfriend Audrey, is ultimately his undoing, leading Seymour too far down the road to temptation, and once he’s started he can’t seem to stop. Rhydian is responsible for all the bit parts that come in the second half of the show, and it must be said, he makes a passable posh elderly lady.
The music is played live, delivered from the shop next door to Mushnik’s, with the three musicians, Dustin Conrad, Jonnie James and Agust Sveinsson, just visible through its gloomy window.
Go along to see this gem of horticultural nonsense in all its greenery. It’s funny and fun, the songs are in turn comedic and then heartfelt, and it makes for pure escapism. But just remember while you’re there: keep your toothache to yourself, and above all, don’t feed the plant.
Runs until Saturday 12 November 2016 | Image: Matt Martin