Little Shop of Horrors
Howard Ashman (book) and Alan Menken (music)
First produced over fifty years ago and a favourite choice of, particularly, youth theatre groups ever since, Little Shop of Horrors makes a welcome return to Salisbury.
It’s a great start. The lights go up on a sleazy, litter-strewn, downtown New York back street, Skid Row no less, its walls daubed with graffiti, large, filthy dustbins fronting the stage and sad items of laundry hanging from the balconies of the tenement above, while a single brightly-lit sign denotes the presence of a sleazy bar.
A gravelly voice, heavy with sinister undertones, issues the familiar warning, but whatever might happen at other performances, no one here in Salisbury Playhouse is going to forget to switch off their mobile 'phone. The consequences? We daren’t even think about them.
OK. Not, perhaps the wisest decision then, to open a flower shop in such a place. And the fact that they haven’t—Mr Mushnik (Simeon Truby), Seymour (Ben Stott) and Audrey (Frances McNamee)—had a single customer the whole day, would seem to confirm this.
So not the happiest situation for anyone either, but one which is about to be turned round by the discovery of an unusual—unique, in fact—plant which Seymour discovers, by accidentally pricking his finger in the vicinity of the plant, thrives on human blood.
When Seymour’s consequent anaemia starts to take effect, and he’s no longer able to keep up with the plant’s requirements (it now being able to make its demands known having magically acquired the power of speech), the accidental demise of Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin (Jez Unwin) provides a useful dietary supplement. Others will follow, resulting in exponential growth of both the plant, named Audrey II in tribute to Seymour’s love for Audrey, and his increasing fame and fortune.
On the surface stories don’t come much darker then. But this is a musical, with a trio of sassy teenage school truants, Crystal (Gbemisola Ikumelo), Chiffon (Karis Jack) and Ronnette (Carole Stennett) ommenting on the events in the story in music and dance with song titles such as "Grow For Me", "Feed Me" and "Don’t Feed The Plants" to make sure the mood is kept cheerfully upbeat.
And the star of the show? The terrifying plant, of course, Audrey II. And it’s not at all surprising to discover that as, what is scarcely little more than a bud grows, with each successive appearance, into, at the final scene, a monstrous parody of a plant with waving tendrils and enormous gaping, blood-lined jaws, that the puppeteer (Andrew London) previously worked on War Horse at the National Theatre.
We’re used, nowadays, to a standard of professionalism at Salisbury Playhouse that makes us think not just how lucky we are to have a theatre at all in these days of cutbacks and austerity but one which repeatedly delights us with amazing home-grown productions like this Little Shop.
Gone, thank goodness, are the sad times when half-empty auditoriums were not uncommon in Salisbury. These days you’d be well advised to book in advance if you want to be sure of getting a seat.
Reviewer: Anne Hill