Little Shop of Horrors – New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Writers: Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (book and lyrics)
Director: Tara Louis Wilkinson
Reviewer: Alex Ramon

While it’s still a little bit hard to guess what exactly made Alan Menken and Howard Ashman think that there was the basis for a stage show in Roger Corman’s super-low-budget 1960 B film, there’s no denying that their instincts were correct: Little Shop of Horrors remains one of the most enduringly appealing of 1980s musicals. With its cartoonish (yet well-drawn) characters, its witty lyrics and its instantly appealing (yet built-to-last) score, this parody of genetic mutation sci-fi movies, in which a blood-crazed plant is at first the saviour and then the destroyer of a down-on-its-luck Skid Row flower shop, offers a delirious mixture of black comedy and sweet romance that’s as original as it is disarming.

Directed by Tara Louis Wilkinson, Sell A Door’s new touring production of the show, which debuted at Bournemouth Pavilion earlier this month and is now at New Wimbledon Theatre, gets the mixture of elements right, resulting in a punchy, confident and energetic production. David Shields’s set design is economical yet effective, moving the action fluidly from street to florist to dentist surgery, while Charlie Morgan Jones’s lighting, which bathes the stage in shadows or washes of red or green, has just the right Pop expressiveness for what is, essentially, a wry take on the Faust story in which the meek hero, Seymour, gets tempted into unspeakable acts by his “strange and interesting plant” (puppeteered and sung with verve here by Josh Wilmott and Neil Nicholas, respectively).

Sam Lupton and Stephanie Clift are a fine Seymour and Audrey: when they shift from their timid speaking voices to their big, Broadway-style belts the effect is one of pent-up passion being released. Clift’s take on Somewhere That’s Green, on which the abused Audrey details her dream vision of suburban bliss, is both funny and touching, and the pair’s love duet, “Suddenly Seymour,” is – as it should be – the emotional high spot of the production. Paul Kissaun is also entertaining as the flower shop owner Mushnik, duetting delightfully with Lupton on Mushnik and Son.

Steve Martin’s performance as Audrey’s beau, the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello (DDS), in the 1986 Frank Oz film version casts a long shadow, but Rhydian Roberts (of The X Factor) makes something distinctively manic of the part, using his vocal range to great effect, and then amusingly undertaking a selection of small roles in the second half, after Orin meets his memorable fate. And, as the trio who serve as our girl group guides to the action, Sasha Latoya, Vanessa Fisher and Cassie Clare are indeed supreme, providing witty flourishes and great harmonies throughout, as the three-strong band (Dustin Conrad, Jonnie James and Agust Sveinsson) do well by the excellent score. Perhaps no staging can entirely redeem the show’s rather misconceived final 15 minutes, but Wilkinson and her team deliver an enjoyable production here that offers many great pleasures.

Runs until 27 August 2016| Image: Matt Martin

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