Little Shop of Horrors

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Royal Exchange Manchester

9/12/14

As guilty theatrical pleasures go, Little Shop of Horrors is right up there with the very best of them. I first saw Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s musical in the early 80s at Manchester’s Library Theatre and I’ve been a devout fan ever since. To my mind, it’s the perfect blend of great songs, weird humour and 50s-style science fiction (and let’s face it, you don’t find many of those!) While it might seem an unusual choice for a Christmas Production – where’s the tinsel, where’s the saccharine? – the Royal Exchange are on to a winner with this superlative show and if the idea of a Christmas musical is to create joy, then this does so in spades. It had the audience securely wrapped in its tendrils from the opening bars onwards and never let go.

Seymour Krelborn (Gunnar Cauthery) is an orphan, working at Mushmik’s Florists on New York’s notorious Skid Row. Shy, much put-upon by the florist’s scheming owner, Mr Mushnik (Sevan Stephan) Seymour quietly carries a flame for his co-worker, Audrey (Kelly Price), but she, unfortunately, is going out with sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello (Ako Mitchell) who treats her as his personal punchbag. As a business, Mushnik’s isn’t exactly flowering; indeed, it’s on the verge of withering up completely. That’s when Seymour reveals his secret project, a strange and unusual plant which he chanced upon (as you do) during a total eclipse of the sun. He’s named it Audrey Two, in honour of his beloved and he soon realises that the plant only thrives on one kind of food. Human blood. However, despite this inconvenience, the arrival of Audrey Two has an unexpected effect on business. Things at Mushnik’s are on the up and up. But, as with any Faustian pact, there is always a terrible price to be paid somewhere down the line…

LSOH is, of course, ubiquitous, beloved of school drama and amateur dramatic societies alike. There’s a reason for that. Most musicals have one or two memorable songs, but in this, every song is memorable. It’s so expertly put together that it’s hard to make a really bad version of it (little wonder that Ashman and Menken were soon snapped up by Disney.) The Royal Exchange have come up with a note-perfect production, cleverly staged and directed with brio by Derek Bond. The role of Audrey is pivotal and Kelly Price makes this her own, her superb voice ranging from delicate and plaintive in ‘Somewhere That’s Green,’ to strident and soaring in the show-stopping, ‘Suddenly Seymour.’ There’s wonderful support from the 10-strong role-swapping cast (at times, it seemed that there must be thrice that number.) The fact that the musical is played ‘in the round’ means that the various manifestations of Audrey Two require onstage puppeteers, but it matters not a jot – in fact, special mention must go to head puppeteer Nuno Silva, who as well as manipulating the (eerily convincing) ‘mean green mother from outer space’ also provides him with a voice that would do Levi Stubbs proud.

Of course, there has to be a big ending and trust me, this production has one. It would be unfair to reveal any more than that but suffice to say that the usually austere Royal Exchange crowd made their feelings known, leaping to their feet to deliver an enthusiastic standing ovation to a clearly delighted cast. The musical’s run has been extended by two weeks and I’m told there are still a few tickets available, so if you can get hold of some, I would urge you to do so. This is unadulterated theatrical joy and like most of the audience, I came out singing. Simply the best Christmas production involving a man-eating plant from outer space that I have ever witnessed. Miss it and weep.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

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