29 December 2006

Little Shop of Horrors – Menier Chocolate Factory, Friday 22nd December 2006

Once in a while, as you rummage round in the rubbish, you occasionally find a pearl. Sure, it might not be a flawless one, but under the coffee grounds and the orange peel it remains an unexpected delight. In this case, the coffee grounds are the fuss and cattle-truck experience you need to go through to actually get into the theatre – herded into a small bar, you wait with about 80 other people until the staff decide to pull back the grille and start the stampede for seats. The orange peel is a major piece of miscasting - but we still have a pearl.

Maybe I should stop going to see shows I already know from the film – it gives the show an almost impossible hurdle to surmount right from the start. And it took this show an almighty struggle to clear the first fence – but once it was across, I had a really good time. This really did prove that the best things often come in small packages.

The set was simple but extremely effective and put the scenery for my Boxing Day theatre jaunt into very sharp perspective (see review for The Sound of Music) – a rough street with two simple box sets representing the florist and the dental surgery. Nice use of a small walk up balcony at one end and an entrance stoop at the other. The small orchestra were tucked away at first floor level behind a row of windows – shame they weren’t given slightly more prominence.

It was good to see the singing trio of Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette (fab voices all, and it made good sense to have two skinny black girls and a dumpy white one – on Skid Row, you get your friends wherever you can) integrated into the story rather than their being just a Greek Chorus, narrating but not touching the story. Great Mr. Mushnik from Barry James – just the right amount of exasperated and seedy Jewishness, maybe just a little too rat-like by the end. I was initially disappointed with Sheridan Smith’s Audrey (nobody can take on Ellen Green and win) as I thought she was too small-voiced (nobody can take on Ellen….) and not possessed of enough skill to hold the required accent (nobody can take…….) and general ditsiness (nobody…..) but she really revved up in Act 2 and bought a level of sentimentality to “Suddenly Semour” that I didn’t expect. Paul Keating was splendid as Seymour and reminded me at times of a very young Anthony Perkins (particularly facially) – just enough of the outsider to make him slightly creepy in his geekiness. His barely controlled body movements made his clumsiness appealing but there was enough intelligence behind the eyes to make his cleverness realistic. Mike McShane was not quite spot on as the voice of Audrey II as his accent wandered a lot, and I wonder at the necessity of his cameo in Act I – did he do this just to reassure the audience that he was actually present and that his voiceover wasn’t a recording? Inside Audrey II, Andy Heath wiggled away wonderfully – having seen him at the end, I wouldn’t mind a wriggle with him myself. Nice design of Audrey II – looked like a big Pitcher Plant). Big disappointment of the evening was Jasper Britton as Orin Scrivello – a complete failure of casting. Scrivello should be butch and sexy, with barely controlled sexuality, perversity and madness all bubbling away inside his head – the kind of man who knows he looks shit hot in a leather jacket, gets a sexual buzz out of snorting nitrous oxide and can make your head spin at the thought of a ride on his big greasy motorbike…… *cough*. (Big missed visual gag – when Scrivello is leering at the centrefold in “Pain Magazine”, he should have rubbed his groin). However, Keating is physically more the lab technician than the mad scientist and was completely unable to convince me. A big flaw in an otherwise fantastic pearl.

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