The Menier Chocolate factory’s revival of Little Shop of Horrors opened on Thursday (30 November 2006) with a cast including Sheridan Smith, Paul Keating, Jasper Britton, Barry James and Mike McShane (See News, 22 Sep 2006). Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s sci-fi spoof musical, loosely based on Roger Corman’s low-budget 1960 film, features a man-eating plant that threatens to take over the world.
Nerdy orphan Seymour works in Mr Mushnik’s run-down florist shop, along with girl of his dreams Audrey, who is dating a demented dentist. After a solar eclipse, Seymour discovers a peculiar plant with a bloodthirsty appetite, which he names Audrey II. As his infatuation with the real Audrey grows, so does the plant. The production is directed by Matthew White, whose UK premiere of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years was at the Menier this past summer, and designed by David Farley, who jointly won this year’s Critics’ Circle Best Design for the Menier’s Sunday in the Park with George, which transferred to the West End.
First night critics loved the schlock B-movie qualities of the musical, and were extremely impressed with the cast. They said although the “camp knowingness” and some of the tunes wear thin, Little Shop of Horrors is a great Christmas alternative to pantomime.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (4 stars) – “It’s Suddenly Seymour all over again as this campy, witty, off-Broadway, off-the-wall 1983 musical…. There was always a problem with the musical: it peters out feebly at the end and all that camp knowingness can become wearing after… oh, about ten minutes? The latter problem is neatly sidestepped by director Matthew White, whose leading actors really do come up with sensationally thorough and affecting performances…. Subtly brilliant Sheridan Smith… plays a funny but deeply injured, possibly anorexic, waif whose delivery of Somewhere That’s Green is the show’s emotional heartbeat. Shame that the “green” turns out to be the deep throat of a botanical carnivore, not the trim lawn by a white picket fence. Her bad boy nemesis, the dentist, is played by the equally brilliant Jasper Britton…. No sign of a turkey… this one’s a cracker.”
Kieron Quirke in the Evening Standard (4 stars) – “This is a production that will surprise no established fans, except with its incessant quality, and should win it a whole new raft of admirers…. the Menier have spared no expense to prove this show is worthy of greater recognition. Matthew White's production has little new about it. It is no lighter, or darker, or more thoughtful than any film fan or amateur theatre buff would expect. Yet from the moment the prologue kicks in, rendered in perfect belting harmony by a low-life all-girl chorus of three, you feel in exceptionally safe hands…. Jasper Britton enjoys himself too much in a variety of supporting roles, but triumphs in his main cameo, giving the manic, sadist Dentist a slightly pathetic aged rebel quality. Sheridan Smith is the audience's favourite, provoking laughs seemingly at will as Seymour's ditsy love interest…. the irony can grate, and the tunes get repetitive. The sweet hymn to suburban life, Somewhere Green, and the love duet Suddenly Seymour are welcome breaks in the parody. Yet it is the plant, brought to life by animatronics and puppetry and voiced by Mike McShane, that inevitably dominates the show, growing over the evening from a seedling into a vegetative Gargantua that fills most of the stage. It's impressive, a worthy centre-piece to a production which shows that, although this musical has its faults, it can still make a classy, fun show."
Sam Marlowe in the Times (4 stars) – “It’s 20 years since the composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman’s sci-fi horror spoof about a monstrous bloodsucking plant was last seen on the London stage. Now it returns in lip-smacking triumph in Matthew White’s exuberantly vulgar production… It’s terrifically slick and witty. Paul Keating’s Seymour is an affecting Everyschmuck trying to do the right thing in a corrupt and tawdry world. And Sheridan Smith excels as Audrey, his beloved co-worker, whose boyfriend, sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello (a deliciously creepy Jasper Britton), abuses her. Smith’s Audrey is much more than a dumb blonde; sweet-natured, shortsighted but sharp, kooky yet dignified…. her comic timing is immaculate. A trio of sassy doo-wop vocalists (Katie Kerr, Melitsa Nicola, Jenny Fitzpatrick) supply commentary, and Mike McShane voices the killer plant with nasty relish. It’s all daft, and arguably disposable; but it’s as snappy as a Venus flytrap, and when it’s executed with such panache, what can you do but succumb to the groping tendrils of its guilty pleasures.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph – “This ludicrously entertaining musical, which began life off-Broadway in 1982, is of course complete schlock, but sometimes schlock is just what's required…. in the Menier's smashing revival… the euphoria and wit of this musical adaptation of Roger Corman's 1962 exploitation movie are unmistakable…. The designer David Farley and a 34-strong technical team have had a ball working on the animatronic Audrey II. We see no fewer than four increasingly large versions of this spectacular, tentacular specimen, evidently closely related to the Venus flytrap but with a revoltingly phallic central tuber and a lid-like mouth covered with sharp teeth. This is a botanical deep throat that can devour a human whole before decorously burping up their hat. The music is terrific, too… delivered with the help of a three-strong, close-harmony girl-group and a band that is absolutely smoking… Matthew White stages the piece with hurtling pace and a bubbling sense of mischief, and the leading performances are superb…. This is a superb treat for the festive season, particularly recommended to parents with bolshie adolescents who have outgrown panto, and I'll be astonished if the show doesn't transfer, lock, stock and flower-pot, into the West End next spring.”
Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (3 stars) – “A jaunty cross between The Rocky Horror Show, Gardeners' Question Time and Macbeth, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's musical is all good grisly fun…. Matthew White's shoestring production… piles on the comedy, makes the most of Ashman's witty lyrics (although we can't always hear them too well) and, in Audrey II, produces a giant star - voiced by Mike McShane and animated by puppeteer Andy Heath - who can quite literally grow on you. The production's other undoubted hit is Jasper Britton, inflicting painful comedy as Audrey's sadistic, motorcycling dentist boyfriend... and who also plays an assortment of other minor characters, each more eccentric than the last. The intimacy of the Menier ensures that this lightweight evening never looks as wafer-thin as it might in larger premises, and there is never the slightest danger of anyone taking themselves too seriously. The cast camp it up to just the right degree - with Sheridan Smith's tart with an apple-pie heart genuinely raising a tear as she dreams of an all-American life on a suburban housing estate…. it's a hugely enjoyable piece of popular fluff. London may need another musical like it needs a hole in the head, but with low ticket prices and a space where the actors can really connect with the audience, this offers better value that many more high-profile shows.”
- by Caroline Ansdell