Book/Lyrics: Howard Ashman
Music: Alan Menkin
Director: Stephen Mear
Reviewer: John Roberts
Credit must be given to Storyhouse for taking the bold creative risk of putting this revival of Little Shop of Horrors into their deep thrust staging format. Not only for how much intimacy the space gives to this comic cult classic, but also how financially they could easily sell the seats that have been taken away from the stalls to raise the playing space to the same level as the dress circle.
It’s not just the layout that strikes the right notes, Stephen Mear directs a production that is mean, green and incredibly slick, he manages to find a strong balance between the productions “B-Movie” horror roots yet still infuse the whole production with pitch-perfect comic timing. Played on Jess Curtis’ open box set which plants the piece firmly in Mushnik’s florist shop, it allows the piece to flow without the need for any major set design (one perhaps would have liked to have seen the shop name change with the opening of act II). It’s always an incredibly difficult task to bring a level of originality to the Man-Eating plant Audrey II but Curtis manages to create a distinct character which is more “family friendly” than perhaps other designs have been in the past.
In the hapless role of put-upon florist assistant turned green-fingered superstar Joshua Lay brings an incredible amount of charm to the role of Seymour and is the perfect foil for Michelle Bishop’s exquisite performance as Audrey, bringing a friendly nod to Ellen Greene without taking the role to the annoying squeaky levels seen from the original performer. Bishop’s rendition of Somewhere That’s Green brings a depth of interpretation so often missed in this musical standard.
Strong support is given from Tony Timberlake as Mushnik and Stephane Anneli brings plenty of gusto to the role of the sadomasochistic dentist Orin alongside a hilarious bunch of comic cameos throughout act II. Plenty of energy is brought tanks to the Skid-Row chorus made up by Cindy Belliot, Tanisha Spring and Emily-Mae. While between them Ryan O’Gorman (Audrey II’s Voice) and Brett Sheils (Puppeteer) make Audrey II larger than life.
Under the musical direction of Alex Beetschen the music hits all the right notes, especially with the more synthesised additions to the numbers. Tim Lutkin’s lighting design adds a serious level of atmosphere to the whole evening.
This is a production that seriously grows on you, its stripped back approach being incredibly refreshing and its quiet confidence in both performers and creatives is incredibly tangible. This is a production of Little Shop of Horrors that deserves a longer run than its currently programmed three-week run, and this reviewer is certainly going to give some blood to ensure that one can catch it before it leaves Chester.
Runs until 2 June 2019 | Image: Contributed