Review: Little Shop of Horrors (New Wimbledon Theatre)
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's cult classic is currently touring the UK
It's bizarre to think that the writing pair responsible for such iconic scores as Disney's Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, had their breakthrough with this oddball comedy musical about a blood thirsty plant that brings two misfits together before gobbling them up. And 34 years since its Off-Broadway premiere, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's Little Shop Of Horrors is back in bloom and as popular as ever.
Part of the show's continuing success, despite an incredulous storyline with a highly questionable subplot concerning domestic abuse, is its score. Songs like "Skid Row", "Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly Seymour" have rightly earned their place in musical theatre history, and are performed with aplomb by this cast of eleven.
Another reason for the show's popularity is its brilliant romantic leads; Seymour (Sam Lupton) an orphan, lonely and disillusioned with life working in a florist on Skid Row, and Audrey (Stephanie Clift), unknowingly the object of Seymour's affections, she's stuck with a boyfriend who prefers shooting puppies, poisoning guppies and beating her up, to the better life she yearns for but doesn't really believe she's worthy of.
It's a delight to watch Lupton and Clift lead the cast. Both make the roles their own - a tricky task when your predecessors include Rick Moranis and Sheridan Smith. Any preconceptions of the characters are thrown out of the window in Tara Wilkinson's production; Seymour is less nerdy and more psychotic, desperate for fame, fortune and the girl. Audrey is more sentimental than in previous productions - her "Somewhere That's Green" plays for tears more than laughs.
As maniac dentist Orin Scrivello, single-monikered X Factor alumnus Rhydian could do with being more, well maniacal. For someone that is known for his over-the-top persona, it's surprising how often his performance lacks oomph.
Wilkinson's production is snappy and fresh, and the Audrey II puppets work a treat, but her staging along with David Shields' one-size-fits-all set design for the tour means a fair chunk of the blocking is hidden from anyone on the left side of the auditorium, which becomes increasingly frustrating. Several costume choices for Audrey also negate punchlines - we can't laugh at her dress sense if she actually looks well dressed. This is perhaps intentional from Wilkinson, a further attempt to avoid Audrey being the butt of all the jokes, but at times seems misguided.
It's a new take on the cult classic that works in some aspects more than others, you've likely seen better versions but it's unlikely you've seen a better matched romantic couple, and it's worth seeing for Lupton and Clift's performances alone.
Little Shop of Horrors runs at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 27 August before continuing its tour to Belfast, Woking, Aylesbury, Lichfield, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bridlington, Cheltenham, Coventry, Manchester, Glasgow and Blackpool.