Little Shop of Horrors is a rare show. Like The Rocky Horror Show it is more of a cult than most standard musicals. Taking a cheeky swipe at the horror movie genre, with an absurd, macabre storyline, knowingly stereotypical characters and wrapped up in catchy, memorable numbers, its fans are legion and devoted. It has a wide variety of parts that are huge fun to play, and as such it is a longstanding favourite on the am dram circuit.
I have only seen the show once before, so was looking forward to seeing this production by longstanding South West London society Wimbledon Light Operatic Society at a relatively new venue for them, Stockwell Playhouse (their first production there was only last year). It’s quite a challenging space, having no wings and a low stage, but that can sometimes bring an interesting dynamic to shows, as the director has to think a little more outside of the box with their staging when facing the multiple challenges of an extensive cast, set and limited space.
All the ingredients for a brilliant show are here, it had a wonderfully talented cast with strong, lovely voices and nice characterisations. The three divas (Abbie Minnock, Amy Matthewson and Emma Newman) stole the show with their sassy moves and harmonies, and Seymour (played by Glen Jordan) was everything you would wish him to be; sweet, shy, downtrodden, dorky.
It was a bold and unusual move having a woman as the voice of Audrey II, and one that will no doubt split the audience and enrage the purists, but personally I liked it, it changed the relationship between Seymour and Audrey II, taking an almost flirtatious dynamic. Trish Butterfield handled the role well, especially as it is very much a vocal part written for a man with a deep, bass voice, and though it did throw off a few of the harmonies, her powerful delivery more than made up for that.
Michael Leopold as Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin was a good foil for the awkward Seymour; tall, good looking and smooth with a great voice, but he did not really go far enough to make the character revolting and monstrous. There is no doubt that Michael is a talented performer, but this role did not really suit him, he is really too likeable to allow the audience to accept his grisly fate. Similarly, Brian Voakes as Mushnik was more twinkly-eyed indulgent grandfather than mercenary, exploitative shop owner.
Olivia Stearman was a sweetly pretty and tottering Audrey, but I was a little disappointed that some further nuances and opportunities for humour in the character weren’t really explored.
From her rather tasteful dresses to an often belting vocal, a brash and tarty exterior hiding a sweet and vulnerable heart were alluded to, but not really conveyed. “Somewhere That’s Green” is really the first time the audience learns more about the simple dreams Audrey holds dear, and while beautifully sung, it would have benefitted from a lighter, softer vocal throughout to greater express the sentiment of the song.
The ensemble, though they didn’t appear much, provided some standout performances, and sterling vocal backup.
Though individual performances were on the whole reasonably solid, I did feel that the cast as a whole lacked synergy and continuity. It felt like each principal was performing in their own version of the show, rather than working together as a collective in sync with each other, and that negatively altered the energy of the piece.
This may be in part due to some odd staging decisions. The majority of the action, which takes place in Mushnik’s shop was confined to the parameters of a very small set, so the front of the stage could be used as an alternative “outside space”. I understand the reasoning, but in my opinion, the sacrifice of space for the actors to move around in was not worth it. By trying to differentiate between “inside” and “outside” through spacing rather than set change or lighting, and keeping the majority of the action very confined , the cast were constantly tripping over set and each other trying to move around, which detracted audience attention from their performance. As these defined spaces on occasions melded anyway, it really wasn’t necessary for these restrictions to exist, so the actors could have used the space more fully throughout. It was also frequently possible to see crew moving around backstage, and while I know that sometimes this can’t be helped, especially in such a tight space, this could have been easily avoided by pulling over a tab slightly to mask a gap at the side of the set, keeping crew in position behind set, or if neither of those were possible, making crew part of the action, maybe in costume, so they could stride quickly and confidently offstage, rather than creeping into the eyeline of the audience, which was very distracting.
However, those things aside, the audience clearly enjoyed the show immensely, applause was enthusiastic and loud and the laughs kept coming throughout. Overall, the show had bags of potential and a talented cast, but could have done with a stronger direction and more creative staging to help it reach the heights it could have and should have.