Words: Angela Ferguson. Photos: Mark McNulty and Angela Ferguson
If you’re looking for a plant-tastic cult musical extravaganza then Storyhouse is where it’s at this summer.
And if you dare visit The Little Shop of Horrors, promise me you’ll savour every moment spent in the company of the surprisingly charismatic singing killer plant, Audrey II. Not all of those who visit her in Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists live to tell the tale, so if you make it out alive to enjoy an interval ice cream or glass of wine, consider yourself very lucky.
Audrey II (Brett Shiels and Ryan O’Gorman) is the star of the show here, with all due respect to her hugely talented fellow cast members. This corrupt piece of foliage is calling the shots with increasingly dodgy demands. And when she gets hangry, it’s time to find her next snack.
Described as a B-movie schlock-horror tragi-comedy musical, this black comedy is packed with food for thought. Audrey II constantly ramps up her demands for sustenance, manipulating her guardian, the seemingly meek and mild Seymour (Joshua Lay), to ensure she gets regular snacks. Meanwhile, serious issues like self esteem and domestic abuse are also featured, adding a gritty dose of reality alongside many moments of surreal escapism and the love story at the heart of this musical.
The cast of nine in this stripped-back production fill the main theatre at Storyhouse with their immense presence and strong performances. The urban set, designed by Jess Curtis, focuses in on Mushnik’s florists shop, combining tentacle-like neon lighting and 50s American diner-style chrome and metal, all set to transport us from Chester to another world. And the multi-talented cast are equally at home singing and dancing as they are acting alongside the scene-stealing Audrey II. Watch out for some eyecatching choreography, including one scene featuring rather hypnotic coiling telephone chord choreography. Yes, you did read that correctly.
Cindy Belliot, Emily-Mae and Tanisha Spring are sublime as Chiffon, Ronette and Crystal, providing a moral musical compass to guide the main characters through the ups and downs of life on Skid Row. This was all accompanied by the toetapping sounds of the talented live band, led by musical director Alex Beetschen.
Stephane Anelli is a captivating and darkly comical demon dentist Orin, controlling the endearing and charismatic B-movie heroine that is Audrey (Michelle Bishop), with her chic 50s film star vibe. Mr Mushnik (Tony Timberlake) is the perfect foil to this kooky love story, making for an endearingly loveable, if slightly curmudgeonly, shop owner.
Congratulations to the team behind this epic production, including award-winning director Stephen Mear and Chester-based associate director Lucy Thatcher. Now, I must make a bit of a declaration of interest here. In addition to writing reviews, I have also enjoyed a bit of a dalliance with acting classes, which I absolutely loved. And one of my inspirational acting teachers just happens to be Lucy, who runs North West End Acting School with her partner and fellow actor and musician Francis Tucker. So it was such a thrill to see what she and her fellow cast and crew have done with this particular production.
Indeed, if Lucy and fellow cast and crew were a little anxious ahead of press night for the show, then hopefully any nerves soon subsided with the enthusiastic response from the audience, who bopped along to the numerous catchy tunes, lapping up every note and syllable on the intimate thrust stage. Bravo to all involved on producing what is sure to be a summer smash hit. What a way to celebrate Storyhouse’s second birthday. It’s a definite, plant-tastic ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ from us for Little Shop of Horrors.
The show runs until Sunday 2 June. To book, head over to the storyhouse.com website.