Having never seen Little Shop of Horrors before, I didn’t know quite what to expect from Ambriel Productions’ Playhouse production. I knew the catchy title song, but not much more — and if (like me) you’ve never experienced this musical before, believe me when I say that the well-known doo-wop number doesn’t fully prepare you for the bizarre delight that is Little Shop.
It’s an ambitious production to take on: the subject matter ranges from the downright silly (a talking, man-eating plant) to the dark and weighty (unusually for a musical, the show comes with a trigger warning for domestic abuse). Director Jonny Wiles’ production handles the variety of the show with sensitivity and maturity, and the revelations about Audrey’s abuse at the hands of her boyfriend Orin (played by Amelia Gabriel and Laurence Belcher respectively) were met with shock and discomfort on the audience’s part, contrasting with the blasé attitude of the script.
With a relatively small cast for a Playhouse musical, Little Shop allowed each performer a chance to shine. I can’t mention everyone, but the director, cast and musical director Sophia Hall should all be pleased with one of the slickest opening night musicals I have seen. James Tibbles is perfectly cast as Seymour, a downtrodden shopboy working in a florist’s. He never aggressively asserts himself, effectively conveying Seymour’s introversion and self-doubt, and leading the audience through the play in an incredibly loveable way. Seymour’s love-interest is played to the same degree of excellence by Gabriel, who brings a sense of effortless charm to the much-maligned Audrey. Jess Bollands’ sultry voice is captivating singing the Siren song of the bloodthirsty plant Audrey II (usually played by a man, but cleverly adapted to introduce a queer feminist subtext). However, the show is somewhat stolen by Laurence Belcher, who manages to make even the loathsome Orin Scrivello (D.D.S.) begrudgingly endearing, and who lands every joke in a number of multi-roling cameo appearances.
Praise should be heaped by the bucketload on the whole design team, who incorporate the kitsch of the ‘60s with more modern costumes to create a world set in a time “not too long before our own”. Mention must go to Molly Nickson for her functional yet visually impressive set, and to Marcus Knight-Adams for once more getting skin-tight leather trousers onto the Playhouse stage.
The production was not perfect: it lacked the high energy needed at the beginning to fully engage the audience, and some performances were uneven at times (which is easily attributable to opening night flutters). That being said, I have rarely left the theatre beaming as widely as I did last night. If you want a respite from the stresses of Trinity term, I cannot recommend enough that you get your ticket for Little Shop now before it sells out its remaining performances – as it fully deserves to do.