Sunday, 17 May 2009

Little Shop of Horrors

Milton Keynes Theatre
11 May 2009

Rich dark chocolate factory stuff!

This wonderfully kitsch and camp show which also boasts some great songs is an un-taxing and fun evening, but I have to first say what I spent most of the production contemplating!

Reading the programme before curtain up I discovered that I knew one of the three puppeteers who take it in turns to “work” the man-eating plat Audrey II. The last time I had seen Iestyn Evans was when he was a young teenager who both built and “worked” Audrey II in a local amateur production that I was working on. So, my thoughts during the show were split between being delighted that this really nice young man had developed a very successful career for himself in the world of professional puppetry, a world that he had always seemed destined for and, luckily for him, had worked out – and the horror of realising that I had last seen him 14 years ago – 14 YEARS – OMG!

I also spent a lot of time listening for the bass line in the songs as the bass guitarist had spent a week at our flat in Coventry when the show was at the Belgrade. I didn’t have to listen hard – it was very loud – but very good!

So, onto the show – the stage version of what has become a cult movie - Ashman and Menken's B-movie horror spoof musical, this time produced by the people from the Menier Chocolate Factory.It opens at Mushnik’s Florists on Skid Row, where the struggling proprietor is about to close down. But then, his downtrodden assistant Seymour finds a “strange and interesting plant” which he calls Audrey 2 after his fellow assistant Audrey, for whom he holds a considerable torch. However, the plant soon becomes stranger and hungrier and leads Seymour down a very dark path indeed, because Audrey needs blood in order to survive.

Matthew White's production has lots of charm, even if it’s all quite ludicrous! I don’t know why but I didn’t expect Clare Buckfield to be any good as Audrey, but she is and has a surprisingly strong singing voice too. Alex Ferns has a blast as the sado-masichist dentist (aren’t they all?!). This is a man who does a very good line in playing people who are “not quite right” (I cite Trevor in EastEnders) and in this role he was a man who really looked like he was enjoying himself! Quite over the top but this didn’t matter a bit.

The cast also features the dependable experience of Sylvester McCoy as Mushnik, even though his American-Jewish accent was another “not quite right” thing, but as this also gets laughs, maybe it was planned that way! Clive Rowe is an excellent voice of Audrey II , the plant which grows impressively throughout the show until it dominates the show. He exudes just the right amount of wit, and Damian Humbley as the meek amateur botanist Seymour strikes the right note of indecision and torment that the role requires.

The Ronettes-style trio of Nadia Di Mambro, Cathryn Davis and Donna Hines, who provide the narration have incredible voices, but sometimes the strength of their chords over powered the actual words which was a shame. Also, the all round cast felt a little lacking in number. It was fun having Alex Ferns come back playing many different parts but it would have been nice to have more in the cast so that more could be made of the bigger numbers. However, I guess cost precludes this and the fact that it’s obviously Ferns in all these other parts is a nice touch I guess!

One thing that I must take issue with though – and for this I blame the marketeers and not the production – and that’s that with a tough titty, a cr*p and at least two sh*ts I would argue against the seven-years-old and up label. Couple that with feeding body parts into a plant and you could scar some poor little blighters for life.

But this is a vibrant and fun production with some lovely dark comedy, it’s just that it’s for secondary age and above only I think!

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