Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Little Shop of Horrors

Aberystwyth Arts Centre Youth Theatre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , November-23-07
Last night I went to see Ashman and Menken’s great plant-growing, man-eating, dentist-scaring, toe-tapping extravaganza ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ for the third time in six months. Three different productions, three different casts, three different theatres. In May I saw Curtain Call’s formidable production at the Morlan Centre (review elsewhere in this esteemed site), then in August I saw the redoubtable Sheridan Smith and Alistair Magowan in the West End production. Now I am faced with the not inconsiderable might of Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s Youth Theatre bringing the show to the stage again. What to think?

Well, one might think, in retrospect – marvellous. Director Harry Durnall’s design for the set – a central raised area for Mushnik’s flower shop with lower playing areas for cast and band, against an oddly familiar backdrop of the New York backstreet skyline, was well proportioned, with good stage dressing for the squalor of Skid Row and very good scenic painting by Stu-Art James, complemented by Paul Matthews’s lighting design and Tom Riley’s sound, though mic-based sound proved problematic during the show on occasion. Auriel Martin’s costumes added a final layer of sparkly drudgery to the setting of the low ‘burg of Skid Row in New York. Glamour and squalor mingled beautifully in these creations.

Durnall and his assistant Clare Fearnley were supported by two eminent local creative talents in the form of Musical Director Rhys Taylor (whose band were on top form throughout) and choreographer Rachel West, whose direction of movement sequences, including the highly memorable ‘Mushnik and Son’ number was never less than high-quality.

The cast, however, had a monumental task in front of them to be able to pull this off on the night, but, though even younger than the student cast I saw earlier in the year, they did so with considerable aplomb.

The Ronettes (four in this production) gave a good grounding to the action as the down-at-heel would be glamour-girls who narrate sections of the story. Tiffany Evans, Marged Howells, Gwyneth Keyworth and Eirian Stovell deserve to be very proud of their contribution.

Ben Williams, as Orin Scrivello, DDS, gave a delightfully swaggering performance as the bad-boy dentist and laughing-gas addict who falls foul of the desires of that ‘strange and interesting plant’, Audrey II. His numbers were well delivered, his movement was sound and his dialogue, though occasionally lacking in good diction during more fast-talking moments, was entertaining throughout, as was his extremely memorable first entrance.

Marcus Dobson gave a brilliantly rendered performance as the crotchety florist Mushnik. Gloriously funny and switching pretty well between shuffling frustration and light-footed sprightliness, this was a very well-rounded and satisfying performance.

The supporting cast of derelicts and sundry roles, played with dedication and commitment by Fleur Newton, Leah Marggraf-Turley, Ruth Taylor, Roger Clark, Catrin Howells and Katrin Padel, added greatly to the feel of many a scene, particularly the number ‘The Meek Shall Inherit’, when Clark dominated proceedings with an outrageously mirthsome performance as Skip Snip, the entertainment mogul.

Of course, this show must and will always be dominated by the grand trio of Seymour, Audrey and Audrey II.

The fearsome plant, in all its forms, as operated by Rhodri Evans and Michael Crook, was given an added gloss by the playfulness of Tom Jones’s performance as its voice. Jones added a new lustre to the traditional rendition of Audrey II’s voice and he very much made it his own in the best possible way.

Taron Egerton gave a very sweet, amusing and energetic performance as the shy florist’s assistant Seymour Krelborn and acquitted himself dialogically, vocally and physically with great flair. His relationship with Audrey, and Audrey II for that matter, was always well-balanced and struck the right note at any given time.

However, Caroline Peel, as Audrey, a young actress who has, as far as I can tell, sprung from nowhere, is a rare marvel, particularly, but not by any means solely because of her years matched against her voice. She is possessed of the most beautiful instrument, and sings with a type of power and polish that many professional musical theatre actresses only ever get to dream about. Her performance of ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ brings a tear to the eye, and I defy anyone not to go thrillingly cold during her and Egerton’s duet ‘Suddenly Seymour’.

This is a company who have consistently upped their game with every outing. If it can go further than this, I shiver to think of what show might arise from it.

The run continues on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th November in Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Do what you have to in order to get a ticket, or I will personally feed you to the plant!

Reviewed by: Paddy Cooper

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