Plant-life and low-life coalesce in this glam and gory meet 'n' eat in the park
Writing team Howard Ashman (book and lyrics) and Alan Menken (music) are responsible for a string of award-winning movie music megahits. Most notably Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, but before they went all Disney, they'd gone gleefully over to the dark side with Little Shop of Horrors. This part sci-fi horror, part cautionary tale – and part love story, naturally – involves a flesh-eating alien plant that stalks the city (think Day of the Triffids, were it a musical comedy) making clear that succumbing to temptation can lead to unexpected consequences.
In designer Tom Scutt’s monochrome dystopian urban landscape, rickety skyscrapers lean at crazy angles like a 3D graphic novel, stark against the lush green of Regent’s Park. Beneath scurry the denizens of Skid Row, pushing sad shopping trolleys filled with black sacks and, surreally, miniature skyscrapers. The terrific trio of street urchin narrators evoke the girlie groups they’re named for (shout out to Christina Modestou’s Ronnette, Seyi Omooba’s Crystal and Renée Lamb’s Chiffon) and the gear they wear provides a splash of green, presaging the verdant takeover to come.
The genius of director Maria Aberg’s vision is in the nuances she finds in the rise and fall of orphan Seymour. He’s a nebbish according to Mr Mushnik (Forbes Masson), who takes him in to work his socks off in his run-down flower shop, alongside Audrey, the girl Seymour yearns for. But eager-to-please Audrey has self-image problems and a boyfriend from hell, the dentist (read sadist) Orin, who's played maniacally by former Busted man Matt Willis.
Here's when Marc Antolin’s Seymour begins to grow. As he nurtures Audrey II, the apparently equally nebbish little green plant with an unhealthy appetite for flesh and blood, it turns into a glamorous attraction that changes his fortunes. True, Seymour struggles to justify the horror of the fate of his ‘plant food’, but Antolin (Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk), an actor of extraordinary charm, succeeds here in combining appealing vulnerability with a steely mean streak. Beneath Jemima Rooper's comical portrayal of a ditzy Audrey, reveals a genuinely damaged girl trapped in a very unfunny abusive relationship.
But this all works with, not against, the musical’s camp comedy and schlock horror, crowned with a brilliantly OTT performance from queen of drag queens Vicky Vox. Big-voiced, larger-than-(plant)life, her Audrey II stalks the stage in dayglo green and shocking pink, every ample inch the evil genie offering Seymour a gory Faustian pact.
Masson’s Mushnik is hilariously authentic, relishing lyrics spiced with Yiddish, calling Seymour mensch and boychik, offering to adopt the sudden boy wonder. The big exciting sound comes from nine musos across 13 different instruments with MD Cat Beveridge on keyboards.
Finally, the gorefest dissolves into an inclusive carnival ending, bringing performers and audience together surrounded by London’s (hopefully) benevolent greenery. Dystopian fun in the Park? Bring it on!
By Judi Herman
Photos by Johan Persson
Little Shop of Horrors runs until Saturday 15 September. 7.45pm, 2.15pm (Thu & Sat only). £25-£59, £12.50-£29.50 under-18s. Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, NW1 4NU. https://openairtheatre.com