Over a year since its six-month stint in the West End, the Menier Chocolate Factory revival of Messrs Ashman and Menken's B-movie horror spoof musical Little Shop of Horrors has hit the road.

Matthew White's production has inevitably been scaled-down and simplified for its touring incarnation, but loses none of its ludicrous camp charm in the process. Clare Buckfield comfortably slips into Sheridan Smith's ample slippers as delicate flower Audrey, while Alex Ferns has a gas in a wickedly weird turn as sadistic dentist Scrivello.

Buckfield and Ferns are the standouts in a cast that also features the ever-dependable Clive Rowe as Audrey II (the shrub with a taste for blood) and Sylvester McCoy as insecure plant shop-owner Mushnik, who still raises laughs despite (or maybe because of) his disastrous stab at an American-Jewish accent. And as his meek shop assistant-cum-amateur botanist Seymour, the aptly named Damian Humbley displays the requisite levels of vacillation and angst that are as deep-rooted as his monstrous botanical creation.

This is a well-oiled touring machine, even if the wobbly set walls aren't quite as strong as the creative talent on show. Recent Whatsonstage.com award-winner Lynne Page's choreography is fresh and fun, and director White injects no shortage of neat touches to keep the laughs coming (Scrivello's sudden show of dental masochism a particular treat).

The ensemble feels a little thin in number, and the sound system is decidedly unbalanced at times, but these are minor complaints about a show that comes about as close as you get to a guaranteed good night out.

- Theo Bosanquet



NOTE: The following THREE STAR review dates from March 2007 and this production's run at the Duke of York's Theatre


Well, it’s a lot of fun, of course, but is Little Shop of Horrors really any good? Who cares, I suppose, when this delightful, off-the-wall 1983 spoof rock and roll horror musical about a man-eating plant which transforms the fortunes (and kills off the staff in a consummation devoutly not to be wished) of a flower shop on Skid Row spreads its tentacles through the auditorium.

That is literally what happens at the end of the Menier Chocolate Factory production of last November, now happily ensconced at the Duke of York’s and likely to win as many new friends as the Menier’s previous up-town move with Sunday in the Park with George.

I have two immediate big caveats. The sound system is terrible, harsh and too metallic, rendering the last twenty minutes of the show inaudible. And Alistair McGowan is okay as the sadistic dentist (and in other minor roles) – much better than he was as an anaemic Ford in the RSC’s misfired musical Merry Wives – but not a patch on Jasper Britton whom he has replaced; his comic mania is not deliciously out of control.

The main thing is that the two leads are still in place, and both are brilliant. Sheridan Smith is a definitive abused shop girl, Audrey, who suffers at the hands of the dentist but dreams of “Somewhere that’s Green” (and not, poor girl, the insides of a triffid-like omnivore). What she does with that one song, on four layers of sentiment – suburban fantasy, regret, camp pathos, and innocent charm – is quite amazing.

And Paul Keating as the nerd turned champion botanist, Seymour, is even more delightful and impressive than before. Their big duet, “Suddenly Seymour,” is a total gas and newly animated by the use of the fire escape: very Tennessee Williams - “Suddenly Last Seymour,” perhaps. Barry James as the shop owner Mushnik (he was Seymour in the original London cast) is more frenetic than ever, but still not Jewish enough.

David Farley’s design looks better in the proscenium, and the voracious Audrey II – fat green stem like a mouldy wrinkled penis, gaping shark’s mouth, leaves proliferating like an untamed rhubarb bush, and coiled tentacles combining elements of octopus and jungle undergrowth – is a wonder in itself, a sexual predator with fangs for the mammary.

The plant is vocalised by Mike McShane in splendid black and bluesy style, and operated by Andy Heath who is pleasingly regurgitated for the curtain calls. Matthew White’s bouncy production is hilariously launched by the finger-wagging, butt-banging girl group trio of Katie Kerr, Melitsa Nicola and Jenny Fitzpatrick.

The tart lyrics of Howard Ashman and raunchy music of Alan Menken peak in the central sequence of wittily parodistic rock numbers, but the show still suffers in its decline from send-up to satire as Seymour’s fame grows in tandem with the plant’s appetite and the cover of Life magazine beckons along with big Audrey’s mandible: please sir, it seems to be saying, can I have some maw?

- Michael Coveney


Note: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from December 2006 and this production's original run at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

It’s “Suddenly Seymour” all over again as this campy, witty, off-Broadway, off-the-wall 1983 musical (based on a Roger Corman horror movie) steams into the Menier for a jolly holiday season: how charmingly appropriate that the heroine endures an abusive relationship with a sado-masochistic dentist and all the principals are dead by the end, swallowed by a man-eating Venus flytrap in a flower shop on Skid Row.

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.

Audrey was originally played – in New York and London, and on film – by Ellen Greene as a sort of manically indomitable Fenella Fielding. The more subtly brilliant Sheridan Smith – of Two Pints of Lager, The Royle Family and Grown Ups television fame – 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 (who also chips in with a handful of hilariously observed small parts), avoiding the obvious “Elvis” act – as seen in the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s revival four years ago – but still coolly gyrating as the motorbike-riding “leader of the plaque.” The sight of him being asphyxiated inside his own gas mask (still singing, of course) while wielding a spanner-like tooth extractor lends the Christmas message of good will a whole new toothsome meaning; and justifies a lovely rhyme of molars with Holy Rollers.

The lyrics are matched by Disney composer Alan Mencken’s punchy 1950s score of blues, rock and roll and even a witty tango for the shop owner (delightfully played by Barry James, if not Jewish enough) and his newly adopted son, the nerdy but nice shop assistant Seymour (perfectly cast Paul Keating).

There is a huge, unnecessarily cumbersome set by David Farley, but it does have to accommodate the sprouting Audrey II as a day at the flower shop becomes a night of the triffids. The greedy, gobbling voice is that of Mike McShane, whom we also see in his new slim-line manifestation every now and then.

Audrey has her “suddenly last Seymour” moment in the show’s best song before the munching gets serious. Then it’s on to the finale with the fabulous trio of denim-jacketed street girls – Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette (Katie Kerr, Melitsa Nicola and Jenny Fitzpatrick) – ending up where they started, out on the stoop, but with a new choric function as counterpart to the big green seasonal Brussels sprout in the window. No sign of a turkey, though: this one’s a cracker.

- Michael Coveney