Little Shop of Horrors

Date 18th October 2014
Society South Manchester AOS
Venue Royal Northern College of Music - Studio Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Kevin Proctor
Musical Director John Barry


Author: David Slater

This affectionate pastiche of 1950s B movies has a lot in it to enjoy and was both an immediate hit with audiences and has proved to be an enduringly popular little show. Snappy, sassy music; lots of tongue in cheek humour; a perverted dentist and a talking plant - what more could one ask for on a night out at the theatre?! This production both enlarged the cast - finding room for a chorus of down and outs - and the band, while still managing to maintain the intimacy the show really needs to be at its best: performing in the Studio Theatre space at the RNCM gave the production an intimate feel, really involving the audience in the narrative and giving an immediacy to the whole evening which may have been sacrificed in a larger venue. Kevin Proctor and his cast really used the space to their advantage and scored a hit with the audience as a result, making us feel a part of the entertainment and drawing us in as the unlikely tale unfolded. 

The effective and well constructed set immediately gave us a clue as to the production's black and white colour theme and Mushnik's Flower Shop having a hinged front was a clever idea which made the most of the performance space. I was initially unsure as to the efficacy of a monochrome colour scheme (costumes were uniformly black, white and shades of grey, along with the set) as to my mind, this affectionate pastiche of the all-American sci-fi monster B movie should surely have been painted in more vivid tones: of course, when Audrey II appeared on the scene, this intergalactic Technicolour terror stood out all the more, bringing a vivid splash of colour to Skid Row - a clever touch.

A talented cast - and a really quite exceptional band of musicians under the direction of an obviously talented MD - threw themselves into proceedings, adopting just the right tone to really get the most out of the piece: I think a show such as this needs to fully embrace the over the top wackiness of the pastiche and benefits from performances which are joyously over the top - fortunately, SMAOS delivered and created a fun filled nugget of charming entertainment to a packed house.

Leading the way as nerdy plant botherer Seymour, Michael Jones-McCaw played it just right and won over the audience from the outset with a rather charming portrayal of the downtrodden orphan who has fallen for his fellow flower shop employee, Audrey, even naming his blood-sucking plant after her (as you would.) Strong, clear vocals and a confident characterisation made for a likeable Seymour with Michael making a perfect job of judging just how far to take the character. Rosie Plummer as Audrey sang quite magnificently and again, played the character just right: less self-consciously 'kooky' than I have seen the role done before but her delicate amiability won over the audience within seconds. Mr Mushnik was played with tremendous verve by Stuart Davies who gave a larger than life performance which really worked well and our 'Greek chorus' of backing singers, Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon (that's right, as in the '60s girl groups - I told you it was that kind of show!) kept the audience up to date with events in a series of beautifully sung interludes: the girls became so much more than a background attraction and really became a part of the narrative, so engaging in their stage presence and musically adept were their performances. Everybody's favourite sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello was nicely played by Richard Ross: perhaps a slightly more over the top characterisation would have been more to my taste, with tongue a little more in cheek, but Richard certainly got his teeth into the role and was a firm favourite with the audience!

In many ways, the real star of the show is Audrey II, the man eating plant who appears in various sizes as the show progresses, depending on just how much the feisty vegetable has had to eat! Created and built by the society, this marvellous creation - operated with skill by Dave Barker in its larger incarnations and voiced with great command by Ian Bennett - really was a great achievement and added a professional sheen to the production. Even the smaller versions of the plant - ranging from remote controlled life-sized baby Audrey II, the hand puppet adolescent version and the nascent man-eater in Act One - were really very impressive technical creations too.

Other smaller parts were essayed with consummate ease and the addition of a chorus of hobos, down and outs and passers-by helped to give the feeling of a society where everyone played their part in helping to put flesh on the bones of the narrative without swamping the relatively small performance space or coming across as just an afterthought: a nice touch from the director here. Also of note was the way in which the cast exuded an air of natural confidence; a confidence born of innate talent and careful direction. In a venue such as the Studio Theatre, this easy, confident, reassuringly 'professional' approach is vital in such an intimate space and the whole company are to be congratulated: this, combined with the thoughtful direction, slick production values and the first rate - and unobtrusive - technical support from sound and lighting made for an impressive evening's entertainment. Any qualms I had about picking out the odd lyric here or there due to an unequal sound balance was more than made up for by the sheer verve and élan of the evening as a whole.

All things considered, 'Little Shop of Horrors' is an odd little show: the B movie ridiculousness; the spot-on musical pastiche; the interesting nod in the direction of the Faust legend; the sardonic digs at the 'American Dream'; the coup de theatre of an all-singing (and eating) monster plant from another planet... There are lots of interesting things all wrapped up in a jolly little bundle of musical fun. I've always had a soft spot for 'Somewhere That's Green' - for me, the show's best song - with its clever message and the way the music and lyrics seem to work in opposition to the banality of Audrey's dream life. Beautifully sung by Rosie Plummer, this was one of the many highlights of the show for me.

This was a great production, full of fun and a raft of great performances which kept a packed house thoroughly entertained. My thanks go to everyone involved and for the warm and friendly welcome given to Stuart and myself as guests of the society for the evening. It will be interesting to see if any killer bonsai trees have managed to invade Titipu in the 'Mikado' next year...