Little Shop Of Horrors

Date 21st April 2018
Society The East Cheshire Musical Theatre Company
Venue Peter Barkworth Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Andrew Lee
Musical Director Ed Nurse
Choreographer Sally Hilliard

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Author: Kevin Proctor

It’s always a pleasure to revisit ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ - A musical that blooms in every sense: a veritable bouquet of riches about a blood-thirsty plant that eventually turns into a human-devouring monster. The musical is based on a 1960’s B-movie comic horror, the score is an irresistible pastiche of 1960s music incorporating doo-wop and Motown references, but the story also has real jeopardy.

Straddling that fine line between sincerity and send-up, Elisabeth Lovelady-Roberts as the abused Flower shop assistant, Audrey, combines extreme vulnerability with truthfulness in the knockout performance of the evening. Her renditions of ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ and ‘Suddenly Seymour’ were exquisite, a thoroughly relishing performance!  

There’s often a temptation to play up the roles in this show to indulge the comedy but I believe they’re made both funnier and more touching if played to their honesty, Elisabeth understood this as did John Hilliard as Mr Mushnik. Yes, there are moments of blatant tomfoolery and ridiculousness which John embraced but his performance was more than the two dimensional and often forgetful portrayal I so regularly see, I attached to him and enjoyed his execution.  

Given that the material of this show so heavily references the 1960’s I was somewhat confused with the decision to uproot it from its intended decade to present it in the 1980’s (possibly the 1990’s, I couldn’t quite decipher which, it wasn’t clear). Granted, it’s quite the rage at the moment to present established works at different points in time to which they were originally intended. I have absolutely no issue with this current fad, it can offer an instantly original feel and present a thoroughly revived presentation which prevents it becoming a shadow of something we’ve already seen so many times before, to the degree that the production can feel like an entirely different show as a result, if done successfully. Should a creative team choose to present any piece, let alone one as established as this, at a different point in time it not only needs to work it needs to be made clear why this decision has been made to enhance the narrative, it’s not an easy undertaking to pull off! If you cannot express the reason behind the decision to time shift a piece within the performance then it’s probably best to leave it set where it’s intended to be. ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’ is a tricky one to present in a different era to when it’s intended given that so much of its grip is so firmly lodged in the 1960’s, without re orchestrating it to rid the score of the wonderful Motown feel and 60’s girl group references and without hacking so much of the script to believably suggest we’re in any other decade it will only leave the impression of an unclear statement. Bold, creative decisions excite me but they only work if they show a different or original perspective to the piece, it can only be a smart idea if it works to this outcome. Certain references had been updated - ‘telegram’ amended to ‘fax’ for example – costumes, props and set dressings were all a mix of 1980’s / 1990’s and 1960’s with a fair amount of attire being blatantly British too which only added to the confusion behind the choice.  

Providing excellent vocal performances were the three street urchins - Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon - who sounded superb when singing as a group along with Edward Booth who provided original and impressive intonations for the outlandish ‘plant’. It was wholly refreshing to hear Audrey II (the plant) sung with originality and without any attempt to impersonate the iconic renditions so many of us have heard time and time again.

This is far from being a production which relies on the success of its choreography but I was in complete favour with what had been assembled by Sally Hilliard. I particularly enjoyed the composition in the Finale ‘Don’t Feed The Plants’ which was both stylish and aesthetic.  

Michael Shneck was a cautious Seymour who played the timid soul with more success than the heroic persona. Vocally it felt a bit of a stretch at times and his lines were occasionally rushed to the point we missed what was being said though there were times I was in two minds as to whether I was in favour with his portrayal, some moments missed the mark for me whilst others were perfectly placed for the hapless horticulturalist. Gareth Baddeley cannot be left out for presenting another enjoyable and worthy performance as the sadistic cameo, Orin - Audrey’s dentist biker boyfriend, ‘the leader of the plaque’, with his shining moment being ‘Now (It’s just the Gas)’.

All credit to the band led by Ed Nurse who supplied a terrific sound as a foundation for the production though I can’t deny it was a shame that they had no choice but to deliver the reduced (original) orchestration due to space limitations, though the revived orchestration which include the reeds and brass really do add an extra layer of panache to this already brilliant score! As you’d probably expect with an amateur rending of this title, an ensemble (albeit a manageable size) had been included to help tell the tale which was sensitively done and without pulling focus away from the all-important 1960s girl group trio (sorry, it’s Bananarama inspired now isn’t it!?) who are, or at least should be, central to any production of ‘Little Shop…’ which they remained, thankfully!

Despite the occasional gripe - and let’s face it, we all have them for shows we go to see, be it professional or amateur - everyone involved with the production, whether in view or behind the scenes, should take a bow for an enjoyable show. The pace of the evening was spot on and given the amount of times I’ve seen this show at no point did I lose interest or find my mind wandering. Regardless of the heat, I was fully immersed in the performances. Undoubtedly, this is the finest production I’ve seen by ECMT since becoming the District Rep.