Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Little Shop of Horrors- The Sunderland Empire Theatre

Little Shop Of Horrors
Music: Alan Menken
Book & Lyrics: Howard Ashman
Director: Matthew White
Reviewer: Ian Cain

Who would have thought that a 1959 low-budget black comedy B-movie, directed by Roger Corman, could have spawned the camp, cult classic that is ‘Little Shop Of Horrors.’ Legend has it that, given two days use of some sets from another movie, Corman gathered together a cast of stalwart regulars and created the epic tale on little more than a shoestring.

Such was the popularity of the film that a musical stage version debuted in 1982, followed by a movie remake in 1986. This latest stage revival, from The Menier Chocolate Factory, is a stylish production with a superb cast and stunning special effects.

Seymour Krelborn is a meek, and slightly nerdy, florist’s assistant who finds fame and fortune when he discovers a strange and mysterious plant following a sudden eclipse of the sun. Naming the plant ‘Audrey 2’ - after the colleague whom he has secretly fallen in love with – he cannot understand why the plant does not flourish under his tending and care. A prick from a rose thorn and a drop of blood soon reveal that the plant needs more than just Miracle-Gro to survive.

Damian Humbley is excellent as the botanical nerd and his performance strikes exactly the right balance between nerdiness and vulnerability. Clare Buckfield is sensational as Audrey and she, too, delivers a performance that skilfully combines humour and heartache. Sylvester McCoy displays his immense talent as a comedic actor in the role of Mushnik, the Skid Row florist who intends to maximise the new-found public interest in his once-floundering flower store.

Alex Ferns camps it up in his portrayal of Orin Scrivello, the sadomasochistic dental surgeon who is using and abusing the delectable Audrey. His groin-grabbing performance is a huge hit with the audience.

Nadia Di Mambro, Cathryn Davis and Donna Hines, playing Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette respectively, are a trio of street urchins who inhabit Skid Row and provide musical commentaries on plot developments in a style similar to the ‘doo-wop’ girl groups of the 1960s.

At the risk of offending this hardworking cast, it is ‘Audrey 2’ that steals the show. The puppet increases in size in relation to its voracious appetite, starting off as a small potted plant, less than a foot tall, and finally ending up as a seven-foot monster with a bad temper and a foul mouth. Mike McShane provides a smooth, strong and rich voice for ‘Audrey 2’ and David Farley is to be congratulated for the design of the plant and indeed the entire set.

The 60s-pastiche score is as toe-tapping and enduring as ever and stand-out numbers include ‘Somewhere That’s Green’, ‘Suddenly Seymour’ and of course the title number, ‘Little Shop Of Horrors.’ Matthew White’s direction and Lynne Page’s choreography are the finishing touches that ensure that this horticultural horror is a hilarious hit.

Photos: Catherine Ashmore
Little Shop runs at the Sunderland Empire until Sat 18th April 2009
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