Little Shop of Horrors is a classic musical of sublime ridiculousness, a Faustian pact with a blood-thirsty pot plant set against a twisted version of the American Dream.
All Audrey (Jemima Rooper) wants is a nice house beyond Skid Row with a square of green lawn. All Seymour (Marc Antolin) wants is Audrey and to make something of himself. Can Audrey II, the demonic exotic plant, make their dreams come true or are we all destined to become fertiliser?
Maria Aberg’s production is modern, snappy as a Venus flytrap and boasts more than a little bite. It’s Ru Paul’s Drag Race blended with B-movie grotesque. There are gruesome moments (especially via Matt Willis’ sadistic dentist Orin), plenty of innuendo and even some onstage vomiting.
Overall, it’s more heavy on the glitz than the gore, but the willingness to go there gives the production a subversive edge.
While Aberg’s production offers something new, the cast serve up model versions of the well-loved characters. Antolin’s Seymour is an archetypal ‘nice-guy’, seemingly adorable, his innocence masking a ruthless ambition. He plays brilliantly against Rooper’s genuinely sweet Audrey, their Suddenly Seymour duet as good as it gets.
The three doo-wopping narrators carry the narrative while blending smoothly with the action. Chiffon (Renee Lamb), Ronnette (Christina Modestou) and stand-out Crystal (Seyi Omooba) transform dance moves that could be cliched through their precision and energy.
The lack of wings and inability to create a full black-out on the Open Air stage can present a challenge. But Tom Scutt has created a dynamic set that injects a velocity, even into slower numbers. Tower blocks are spun across the stage in the down-and-outs’ shopping trolleys, while witty accents such as slightly phallic household objects standing in for Mushnik’s floristry help to delightfully lower the tone.
Audrey II’s initial characterisation by Max Humphries’ puppetry tips a wink to the 1960s movie. Resembling more of a child’s toy in its plastic monstrosity than Frank Oz’s evil avocado, the toothsome triffid is charming rather than carnist. But everything changes when the plant transforms and American drag queen Vicky Vox takes over in full, sequinned glory with her seductive voice and filthy cackle.
From here, there are moments when it all threatens to tip over into a high-budget pantomime, but it’s mostly saved by Vox’s powerhouse vocals and withering glare. From her glittered lips, Audrey II’s famous ‘Feed me!’ catchphrase becomes wonderfully smutty.
This is a fast, intelligently paced show that makes full use of its open-air backdrop. The sunset gives a wistfulness to Audrey’s Somewhere That’s Green, which is sung from the rooftop of Mushnik’s shop, framed behind by the romantic and, we can only hope, non-carnivorous greenery of Regent’s Park.