Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Little Shop of Horrors

Aberystwyth Arts Centre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , August-19-13
The very first few chords of Alan Menken’s music for Little Shop of Horrors can send a chill down anyone’s spine. However, it needs the stage presence to really bring Menken’s work to life, and I am pleased to say that Anthony Williams’ show does just that.
David Shields set is one of the best I have seen in a production that is not on the West End. His attention to detail is fantastic; from the curling, fading drinks posters to the rusted stop signs stuck on amber. This helps the audience believe that they are in a run-down section of America, and forget that they are actually in a small town in Western Wales, I most certainly did!
Although the band (led by Michael Morwood) is small, you would never have guessed it from the rich sound they produce. At times though, it was a little overpowering and drowned out the actor’s singing. It’s a shame that in more and more productions; the band is omitted in favour of pre-recorded music. They should definitely take a leaf out of this show’s books.
Little Shop of Horrors is a dark comedy musical, which tells the story of a florist’s assistant; Seymour who finds a “strange and unusual plant” which happens to feed on a rather un usual substance. Seymour’s struggles with the plant, his love for Audrey and the battle with fame and fortune rock his world. Along with a sadistic dentist, a Jewish florist shop owner and three Greek chorus girls, the show is a fun and lively show that should not be missed!

The cast of Little Shop is filled with a talented bunch of performers. Olivier award nominees, West End Stars, local performers and those making their professional debut fill the stage and give a flawless performance to those lucky enough to watch. The transitions between scenes were executed flawlessly by the actors, and at no time did the stage feel empty, or there was not much going on. Even before the show had started, the actors ambled on stage as the wino’s and layabouts of Skid Row. Pulling you into the theatrical world even before the house lights are dimmed.

James Gillan plays Seymour, the hapless florist’s assistant who first discovers the plant. At first, I was not too sure about Gillan’s portrayal of Seymour. Yet, as the show progressed I felt he fit the part and I was wrong about my initial judgement. He successfully showed his characters gradual progression from zero to hero, and showed his brilliant dancing skills and vocal ability throughout the production. Sarah Earnshaw played the ‘tart with a heart’ Audrey. Sarah showed the vulnerable side to Audrey well, and her rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” with acoustic accompaniment was my favourite song of the show. The audience were left coming out of the theatre with a strong emotional attachment to her character, and it takes a great performer to achieve this.

Jimmy Johnston was superb as the Jewish florist Mr. Mushnik. He demonstrated that he still has the dancing skills that were shown in his Oklahoma days, and his singing is just as superb. I would have liked to have seen Jimmy on stage more, possibly because the roles in the show are so limited. Richard Hurst brought a rather sexy, bad boy approach to his role as the dentist and gave the character both a comedic and sinister value. He also played a variety of other roles, which were extremely amusing and certainly his role as Mrs. Luce was a surprise to the audience!

Edward Baruwa provided the voice for Audrey II; the man eating plant. Even though you could not see his face, his voice provided all the emotion required, giving it both a sinister and funky approach. Brett Shiels provides the movement for the plant; I don’t envy him for being in that costume under the stage lights! Both Edward and Brett together, have created (along with the puppet design team) a marvellous crossbreed creation which is to rival, and I believe, to top both the West End and Broadway versions of this flytrap.

The three members of the Greek Chorus; Amy Coombes, Rachel Ann Crane and Mary Fox offer some light hearted relief from scenes. All three of the girls are extremely strong performers, expressive and definitely added to the atmosphere of this musical. The other chorus members, Samantha Giffard, Owen Thompson, James Holdsworth and Steffan Harri each bring their own talents to the show. Sam, as the demonic child, was incredibly eerie and definitely a refreshing outtake on the (normally) ominous narrator at the beginning of the scenes. I found her creepier than the plant! Owen, James and Steffan all make fabulous winos in the production; their dancing, singing and acting is superb. I particularly enjoyed young Steffan as the dentist’s patient; his neck crack made a lot of the audience shudder! Brett was also a fantastically disgusting and perverted wino!
The costumes are all spectacular and it is obvious that each crew member has worked hard on this production. Audrey’s dresses are beautiful in their own way, and I found Richard Hurst’s quick costume changes marvellous! The costumes at the end of the show (I won’t reveal any spoilers) are unique and very well thought of, so well done to all the costume team that are involved, and indeed, to all the backstage crew.

My main criticism is actually not of the show itself, but of the lack of numbers in the audience watching. I felt that this was disheartening to the cast and crew, as personally, I would not want to perform to a near empty auditorium. I don’t understand why though, this is a top quality production that could easily be seen in London. It’s on the residents of Ceredigion’s front door step and half the price of a West End musical.
Personally, I have not seen one of Anthony Williams’ summer productions before, yet I believe that it was a well-constructed show of a beloved musical which is often forgotten. After watching this show I regret not coming to watch one of Anthony’s productions before, and believe me, I will be first in line for tickets for the next one.

Reviewed by: Hugh Griffiths

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