A busy-body ‘in the know’ told me during the interval of the opening night of Little Shop of Horrors that a producer had “hit the roof” backstage because of the failure of the rug over Sophie Collerton’s head to keep her concealed whilst she controlled Audrey II; the all singing, all murdering plant that is the protagonist of this Central Hall musical. If this is true, which I doubt, the producer needn’t have worried. Not only did the slip of the blanket earn its own round of applause, (poor Sophie’s hair was… erm… experiencing some serious static), the accidents throughout the musical were almost as hilarious, and handled just as well as any joke written in the script; “stay there”, Mr Mushnik (Luke de Belder) was able to tell a fallen hat stand. This production was handled partly like a musical (hats off to the choreographer Kate Burke) but also like the most welcoming of stand ups. The actors are flawless, and demonstrated brilliant comic timing, for which we must in some part credit Stephanie Bartlett, clearly a wonderful director.
For those of you who don’t know the plot line to Little Shop of Horrors, (for god’s sake, go and buy a ticket for tomorrow night), I’ll quickly run you through it: a murderous plant is adopted by Seymour Krelborun (Freddie Cambanakis) who works in Mr Mushnik’s (Luke de Belder) Skid Row Florist alongside Audrey (Eliza Shea). Skid Row is “down town” and a rough place to live, and the shop is on the verge of bankruptcy until Seymour suggests putting the “strange and interesting plant” in the window. Fame, fortune and wealth fall upon the florists, as the visitors materialise unexpectedly out from the drudgery of Skid Row to see the plant, Audrey II (named after Audrey, the love of Seymour’s life). Sadly, however, Audrey II only drinks human blood and after a bout of serious anaemia, Seymour is driven to murdering Orin Scrivello (Pete Watts), Audrey’s sadist boyfriend… who is, naturally, a dentist. When it becomes clear that Mr Mushnik has wind of Seymour’s involvement with Orin Scrivello’s mysterious disappearance, Seymour find himself resorting to some dark deeds in order to keep hold of his freedom, his fame, and most importantly, Audrey’s love… all the while balancing the plant’s desire that he should “feed me Seymour.”
People always say that reviews are only ‘one person’s opinion’, (… aka, one idiot’s opinion). This review, I promise you, is not just that. Everyone outside of Central hall was discussing how Freddie Cambanakis, who plays Seymour Krelbourn, was funny and tender and absolutely pitch perfect. He was a startling and brilliant leading man (if he was the leading man… there are a number of contenders) and it made me quite angry at the end of the show when the three narrative girls (I’m sure they have a proper collective title), Crystal (Emily Down), Ronette (Anna Thirkettle) and Chiffon (Lottie Johnson) described him as “a jerk”. Freddie commands the sympathy of his audience, even whilst dropping bloodied body parts into the ungrateful jaws of a murderous brussel sprout look-a-like. Eliza Shea (who played Audrey) was also mesmerising, and brilliantly delivered my favourite line of the play (that isn’t nearly as funny in the film), on how she used to wear “cheap, tasteless outfits, not nice one’s like this” whilst wrapped in a body con that makes damn sure Eliza Shea is mostly leg.
Luke de Belder is, as always, an incredible talent. Larger than life and ensuring he is the centre of your attention at all times when on stage. He should really be congratulated for the brilliant, brilliant footwork during the song Mushnik and Son … it was hilarious, and bizarrely sexual, you should be very proud. Which brings me nicely on to Pete Watts and George Morgan who kind-a stole the show. I’m cautious about over using the word brilliant, but I’m not entirely sure how else to describe the slow crawl of Pete Watt’s fingers over Freddie Cambanakis thigh in the dentists surgery; or the total commitment to a sore throat Pete must have during the glass-shattering hysterical laughter Scrivello has ALL THE TIME having inhaled laughing gas. He was so… erm… ‘brilliant’… that the scene in which he slowly dies whilst singing, laughing and asphyxiating was both very, very funny and painfully uncomfortable. I think his mates may have been sitting in the front row, as the audience seemed to be joining in when Scrivello got overly excited thinking about violence and had to give his legs a nice little stroke. George Morgan, who played the voice of Audrey II, is also incredible (I’m running out of words, apologies). My friend refused to believe that it was a student voice, and not a recording of a large and highly trained American singer that they were playing over the top. You are amazing. I want to marry your voice.
I’m afraid to say the only criticism I have of the entire production was that I didn’t get to hear more of Betty Jones, who had one solo moment during the song Down Town and then didn’t get another chance to show off her voice, which I loved. The entourage of the three girls (don’t be fooled into thinking that because I’ve left them last, that they’re the least important bit, they’re not, and they’re great) were as good as it gets. Lottie Johnson, (who plays Chiffon) steals your attention, and the three (Emily Down, Anna Thirkettle and Lottie Johnson) frankly, play their parts better than it’s done in the film.
I hope I’ve done something like justice to the production I saw last night. The ensemble (Katy Devine, Ollie Dickens, Betty Jones, Rachael Kandola, Tom Lock, Ferg Nolan, Beth Owen and the unexpected appearance of Sophie Collerton) were also all faultless, (well… apart from Sophie Collerton’s head… obviously), and the band and lighting made this a five star night. I’m not entirely sure who designed the many Audrey IIs, but whoever you are, congratulations. If any of you feel that I’ve failed you in some way with this review, please remember, it’s only one idiot’s opinion. And to the rest of you, please buy a ticket.
Central Hall, 8th – 10th November 2012.