Theatre in Wales

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Little Shop of Horrors: Big Show of Talent

Little Shop of Horrors

Aberystwyth Arts Centre Youth Theatre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , November 26, 2007
“Little Shop of Horrors” is twenty-five years old this year and moves towards middle age with a popularity that few musicals achieve. I doubt if composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman ever thought it would be seen as far away as Argentina, Australia and South Africa (nor anticipate the eternal fountain of royalties that must be flowing.)

From the evidence of director Harry Durnall’s production at Aber it is easy to see why its popularity has lasted. No viewer is ever going to get all dewy-eyed over the romance between Audrey and Seymour Krelborn. No single tune is ever going to make “Desert Island Discs” the way that Nicholas Parsons picked a Sondheim song a couple of weeks back. But it is sharp and funny, affectionate but with a necessary touch of asperity. Its comedy is black but light, it is highly melodic, and it is simply plain likeable.

Like Ian McEwan’s novel of this year “Chesil Beach” it is set in the year of 1962, that key year, supposedly, of last innocence before the social, sexual and musical avalanche of the sixties. Maybe, but it allows for some enjoyable retro music. In Orin Scrivello the dentist of all our nightmares, the show has the scariest bad guy in the history of the musicals. Structure, as often in musicals, is all over the place. A great villain is got rid of, grotesquely, far too early on.

This revival was given full justice, with astonishing self-confidence, by nineteen of Ceredigion’s teenagers on stage with a crew of twenty-two offstage.

First the professionals: music came from a tight quartet in silver lame jackets; among them Jak Poore, this time, after his composer achievement of “Café Cariad,” on drums. Harry Durnall and lighting designer Paul Matthews gave Mushnik’s florist shop the smoky, worn look of an Edward Hopper interior.

Directorial flourishes included a Skid Row bum vomiting with a volume to match the miked singers. Leather-jacketed Orin made his entry- and the audience loved this- on a motorbike on full rev, at least 850 cc’s worth of silver machine. If there were some early blips with radio mikes that is a small price to be paid to hear young singing voices.

Greg Cullen has written of the National Youth Theatre of Wales that lazy reviewers did not take the trouble to pick out individual performances. Whether an overflow of innate talent, the skills of a good director, or most likely a creative fusion, the four main parts excelled. If forced to select a front-runner, by a whisker it would be Marcus Dobson for his movement in the “Mushnik and Son” number.

Caroline Peel had the look and appeal of a young Kirsten Dunst, of the “Small Soldiers” period, her voice at times reaching a level of Judy Holliday-ish sublimity. Taron Egerton was geeky to his fingertips- until he took his glasses off- and Ben Williams, as the part asked for, was truly deeply nasty.

On the last night there was only a skimpy programme available with no biographies, pictures or acknowledgements. Maybe fuller programmes had sold out. Either way it would have been good to know who provided the mighty motorbike, indeed who rode it, and who built all the Audrey Twos. One of the four Skid Row chorettes was ahead by a margin in her crispness of movement. As characters they were introduced very quickly by name. Without a clear programme photo identifier, I think she would be Gwyneth Keyworth.

A last night audience with a local cast is never going to be impartial. The enjoyment from the start was noisy, the final applause rapturous but unreservedly warranted. At one point Taron Egerton had to stand and simply wait for some mid-show applause to subside, a test of timing for a young actor. After a recent night of heritage theatre it was good to see the auditorium filled mainly with under-twenties, a good audience to be a part of, and an evening of ambition and accomplishment.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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