After producing alternative-to-the-mainstream shows like “Urinetown!”, “Into The Woods” and “Sweeney Todd”, you might be thinking that Norwich-based theatre company Sound Ideas somewhat sold out when they chose smash-hit musical Little Shop of Horrors as their next production; well, you would be wrong. Despite achieving global theatrical success, with its own Hollywood remake starring well-known household names, Little Shop is no bland vanilla jukebox musical. It’s actually very good!
Starting out as a 1960 low budget non-musical B-movie by cult moviemaker Roger Corman, the film was adapted as a musical back in 1982 for an independent “off-off-broadway” theatre, and it’s clear that for this new production, Sound Ideas have very much taken the show back to its roots, focusing on telling the story effectively, intimately, rather than relying too much on big budget spectacle. (Not that the show didn’t look incredible; quite the reverse!)
The show tells the story of weedy Seymour Krelborn, a young man who works in small, failing florist shop in Skid Row, one of the roughest areas of Downtown Los Angeles. All looks bleak: his well-meaning employer Mr Mushnik is planning on closing down the shop; and his co-worker, the angel-from-the-streets Audrey – who Seymour secretly is in love with – is being beaten up by her violent dentist boyfriend Orin. And then, he accidentally gives a strange and interesting plant – named Audrey II – a few drops of blood…
Wild, outrageous and blackly comic, the story incredibly combines murderous schemes, domestic abuse, and giant singing killer plants, with moments of genuine tenderness, emotion and self-sacrifice. It’s a tremendously ambitious show, but somehow it works.
For their new production, Sound Ideas cast all deliver incredibly, with each of the leads having a few spotlight moments to shine, and each successfully stepping out from under the shadow of the famous movie adaptation. Charly Nash is simply superb as Audrey, emphasising her character’s vulnerability, while at the same time having a incredibly powerful singing voice. Meanwhile, Jason Ames’ Seymour also very much makes the role his own, particularly during the dramatic second act.
With them, although behind the scenes, Joe Betts and Sean Bray are excellent at jointly bring the ever-growing and impressive-looking Audrey II to life, as the plant’s Voice and Puppeteer respectively. Only the laughably bad-looking roots (Emily White and Nic Myers) at the end feel like a stretch too far for the production’s killer plant budget.
Strong support is given by Jon Bennett as Mr Mushnik, and Ellen Smith, April Nash and Becca Jillings as the three ‘street urchin’ narrators, Ronette, Chiffon and Crystal, while Anthony Loftus makes the absolute most of his various minor characters. However, it’s Dan Smith – who is also the show’s director and production designer – who very much steals the show as the wicked Orin whenever he’s on stage.
And the staging itself is total genius: the majority of the set – the florist shop – rotates 180 degrees! This simple concept enables the action to flow continuously, with no pausing for scene changes, keeping the energy up throughout the production. Such impressive staging is an unexpected bonus for a non-professional company like Sound Ideas.
Indeed, roots aside, the whole production looked and sounded very professional: from the gorgeous programmes, to the fantastic-sounding music under the leadership of the talented Artemis Reed, it shows great promise for Sound Ideas; I shall follow their progress with great interest. I wonder where they will grow next?