Little Shop of Horrors started off-Broadway and may not seem like a typical Christmas production. But James Baker is no typical director. He founded Assembled Junk Productions and following the huge success of their production of Spring Awakening, he took the role of Artistic Director at The King Arms in Salford. Little Shop is one of the fruits of his labour. We caught up with him to talk about Audrey the man-eating plant, his new role and more.
How does it feel taking on the new role?
Overwhelming. It's a big responsibility. Saying that I'm an Artistic Director of a fringe theatre in Manchester is in itself a new idea. Unlike fringe theatres in London such as the Finborough, to name one of the most successful, leadership in a fringe theatre in Manchester is unknown territory. It's exciting, but with a role like this, collaboration is important. I think that the success of the venue will rest on the idea of team. The value of theatre comes from the people that make it, so working honestly for the artists and community will help develop the King's Arms Theatre (The KAT) programme
Why Little Shop of Horrors?
I love its off-broadway roots and it is the 1982 version that I've tried to honour. I also admire the sincerity and honesty of the music past the absurdity of the story. The characters are so colourful and unique as a collective, that it's a guilty treat to direct.
How have rehearsals gone so far?
Fantastic! With only two weeks to direct this show, the team have been very giving with their creative journey. We didn't want to miss process over product and deliver a one dimensional show, so we've worked actively with the time to layer the characters and the world. Little Shop of Horrors is a musical that can easily be cheated. I feel that the talents of the work and the team have created something very special and sincere.
Why do you think the show is still popular?
Firstly because it's a cult musical made famous by the 1986 film, but because people still find the story compelling. Thematically it still has relevance. It may appear an absurd story about a man eating plant, but underneath its quirky skin lives a very relevant and important message. All over the media, youth of today are almost promised and conned into the idea of instant success. X Factor glamorises the idea of instant fame. Seymour, struggling with low self-esteem, buys into the idea that this is his ticket out of Skid Row. I also think that Howard Ashman and Alan Menken wrote such a memorable musical that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy; the legacy is made so from the amazing talents of its creators.
The show is known for Audrey - the man eating plant, but with budget constraints - how have you managed it?
I've made an Audrey II before and I stupidly said I would build her again. I made all three for £80. But after losing sleep over the prospect of producing and directing Little Shop, I felt it best to hire the plant. We explained our situation to the hirers who kindly sent us a fair quote, not the £6,000 the previous company quoted us.
What's your favourite song in the show and why?
"The Meek Shall Inherit" is a song that's so musically accomplished and layered. It so effortlessly moves the plot along whilst having such musical journey. It also exposes the heart of the musical – one of manipulation and greed.
It's not typical festive fare, is it?
No, but for those whose taste buds waver at the idea of having to go to a pantomime, it's a great alternative. It actually works well at the Christmas period and our strong sales so far, support this.
What are your plans for Christmas?
Sleep. It's so hard to get proper night's sleep when you're working on a full-time production. I've been sleeping with this musical for the last 6 months. The scale and ambition of this musical puts a lot of pressure on me. Producing and directing something of this scale takes guts. A lot of people are relying on me to make it happen and get it right, so sleep isn't my friend right now. Other than that, eat and have a fun time with my family who live in Leicester.
What are you looking forward to seeing in 2014?
Urinetown… at St James' theatre in London, I can't wait! I directed it at Blackpool when I was lecturing and fell in love with music and book.