Little Shop of Horrors
Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken
De Montfort Hall, Leicester
There's an old saying which advises actors not to work with children and animals. Perhaps it ought to include huge plants because the star of Little Shop of Horrors is undoubtedly Audrey II, the "mean green mother from outer space" which grows to gigantic proportions.
Little Shop is the first Jersey Opera House-produced show to take to the road. Leicester is the only venue in England to host it.
Jersey Opera House manager Ian Stephens, who directs the production, used to run De Montfort Hall. But on press night he must have been cringing with embarrassment on his return to Leicester: the sound balance was appalling, there were a couple of dodgy microphones and some of the lighting cues were so late people were almost offering to put 10p in the meter.
However, the night wasn't a catastrophe. Audrey II behaved impeccably and there were fine performances from the two leading actors.
Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of lovelorn florist Seymour Krelborn, his love interest Audrey and her sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello. The florist's shop is aptly situated on Skid Row because it doesn't have any customers and is heading for financial ruin. But when Seymour puts on display a peculiar-looking flytrap, business takes off and its owner becomes famous. The only problem is it needs human blood to grow.
For this production Audrey II is five puppets. Four original ones were refurbished but the fifth, used in the second act, had to be specially created by Jersey puppeteer Andy Heath. He's done a fine job. It looks spectacular until the very last scene which reminded me of the film Jaws: just like the shark which looks so unreal when you finally see it, Audrey II is exposed when you see her full on because her neck looks like cheap plastic piping.
That seemed to epitomise this production: there are plenty of good ideas but some of them don't quite come off.
Thankfully, this version of Little Shop of Horrors is different from a couple of other productions I've seen in that the two main characters aren't stereotypes.
Clare Buckfield is refreshingly bubbly as Audrey and resists the temptation to play her as a totally dizzy, Marilyn Monroe clone. Although she hasn't got a powerful voice, she puts everything into her songs. Ashley Vallance is equally impressive as Seymour, portraying him as a repressed young man lacking in social skills rather than a geek who looks like Rick Moranis in the '80s movie of Little Shop. The storyline that Audrey falls in love with Seymour can stretch the imagination but here you don't gasp with incredulity when she confesses her true feelings.
The rest of the cast give creditable performances although I didn't like Jay Simon's interpretation of Orin who was too sinister - even when he was inhaling laughing gas.
Accolade of the night must go to Irvine Iqbal. As the personification of Audrey II he has a deep, booming, resonant voice which reaches every corner of the auditorium.
The sound improved in the second half although you could hear feedback on a couple of occasions. Often the band was louder than the vocals - but you can't turn down a trumpet, so the sound coming from the stage ought to have been louder.
This is a good production but opening night was marred by technical flaws. With a little more care, it could have been so much better.
"Little Shop of Horrors" runs until Saturday
Reviewer: Steve Orme