Little Shop of Horrors – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Book and Lyrics: Howard Ashman

Music: Alan Menken

Director: Adam Lacey 

Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists is on the verge of closure – after all, as Mushnik bewails, who buys flowers on Skid Row? But assistant Seymour has a plan or rather, plant, that none of the staff have seen before. The new plant – which Seymour christens Audrey II after his colleague with whom he’s secretly in love – is put on display and starts to attract custom, but at a price. It feeds on human blood and flesh and as it grows ever bigger its needs escalate. A Faustian pact is struck: Seymour will provide food for Audrey II and in return, Seymour will gain fame, riches and the girl. Or is the suggestible Seymour simply a pawn in Audrey II’s Darwinian plan?

This is a production of two halves: there’s a lot to be established before the interval as we learn about the characters and their motivations. In many productions, Audrey II is an animatronic puppet voiced by an actor, but director Adam Lambert has made the bold decision to have Audrey II’s ‘voice’, Matt Bond, appear and move onstage alternately strutting menacingly and pouring honey in Syemour’s ear. Bond’s OTT and gloriously camp portrayal of the evil killer plant as quasi-Bond villain manipulating the hapless Seymour lifts the second half and drives the plot to its inevitable conclusion. It also reveals the ambiguity hidden in the script: is Audrey II (and its manipulation) real, or is it, maybe, a conduit for Seymour’s buried desires, the devil on his shoulder?

Alex Wadham brings a vulnerable naïveté to Seymour as he struggles to express his feelings for Audrey. Seymour’s ultimate descent at the behest of Audrey 2 is well played. The remaining characters, however, are more two-dimensional. Bella Bowen is wide-eyed and timid at the hands of abusive boyfriend, Orin (Bradley Walwyn). Walwyn brings an overpowering sense of evil as he looms around the stage, dominating it when he’s present. Commenting on the whole like glamorous continuity announcers is the Greek chorus of Chiffon (Rebecca Withers), Crystal (Tabitha Rose) and Ronette (Hannah Victoria). In common with the whole cast, they sing powerfully and harmoniously as they tackle the early-60s-inspired songs with precise choreography from Pippa Lacey. Indeed, the music plays a large part in setting the scene and moods as the show progresses: Skid Row describes their feelings at the start, while Audrey’s Somewhere That’s Green is sung sweetly and with longing. Suddenly Seymour grows and swells as Seymour and Audrey come to terms with their feelings for one another, supported by the Greek chorus

A largely monochrome set and costume design supported by thoughtful lighting complements the greens and reds of the various incarnations of Audrey II, including Bond’s colourful costume.

Overall, a loud and fun night out with a definite moral: Be careful what you wish for … and don’t feed the plants!

Runs until 26 September 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Gruesome fun

The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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