When I first heard that the Royal Exchange were staging Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's musical Little Shop of Horrors in the round, I wondered if they would ever pull it off. Mainly because of Audrey II - the huge hungry plant who needs more than water.
I need not have doubted the company because Derek Bond and his terrific team have crafted the most delightful musical adaptation that you will see in years. If you are a huge fan of the films and previous stage versions (and, who isn't?) then your expectations will be high but raise them up a level, as Bond's vision means that you see an intimate heartfelt version of life on Skid Row, but the comedy and gore remain but because it's Christmas - there's some glitter thrown in too.
Seymour Krelborn (Gunnar Cauthery) is a florist; a geek that hardly anyone notices until he is asked to display his unusual plant in the shop to attract customers. As the title suggests, this is no ordinary plant and in true B movie style, it grows and grows and becomes insatiable. Seymour though, has to feed it and we're not talking Baby Bio here.
Cauthery is perfect as the hapless hero; his facial expressions convey excitement at his new found popularity but fear at the cost, as it is definitely a case of 'be careful what you wish for.' Kelly Price's Audrey is dotty, streetwise in Leopard print but she goes beyond the goofy stereotype in glasses. Her Audrey has a heart and she is Cauthery bring genuine heartfelt emotion to the likes of "Suddenly Seymour."
Nuno Silva is the man and voice behind Audrey II and his energy and performance has to be seen to be believed as he is indefatigable. He is ably supported James Charlton and CJ Johnson and they are part of a huge surprise towards the end of this superb show.
Sevan Stephan is a scene stealer as shop owner Mr Mushnik and Ako Mitchell as the dentist - Orin Scrivello is an absolute blast. If you have seen him him in Sister Act in the West End, you'll know what a fine comic actor he is. But here he turns the dial up to 10 and during the song "Dentist" - his performance is completely infectious without the need for laughing gas.
As for Audrey II - Toby Olie has created something quite special. To reveal any more would ruin many a surprise. All I will say is, wherever you sit, you will see the hungry plant and feel part of the show. The final word goes to the Royal Exchange girl group - Chiffon (Ibinabo Jack), Ronnette (Joelle Moses) and Crystal (Ellena Vincent) who are all in perfect voice as our singing narrators. They look fabulous too and really give the show a touch of class.
Derek Bond has given Manchester audiences a perfect Christmas and New Year treat and I would bite your hand off to see it again.