Little Shop of Horrors at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
It’s baffling that Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors doesn’t occupy a more prominent spot in the cult classic canon. Hopefully the Open Air Theatre’s deliriously campy, deliciously dark revival will go some way to rectifying that, director Maria Aberg and designer Tom Scutt paying perfect homage to the musical’s B-movie roots while teasing out some of the more interesting themes that sprout from the schlocky story.
Down on Skid Row, Seymour (Marc Antolin) is down on his luck. The girl of his dreams Audrey (Jemima Rooper) is with an abusive dentist (Matt Willis), his father figure (Forbes Masson) is a slave driver and the flower shop he works in is failing. That is until a bit of horticultural magic results in Audrey II, a grinning, growing super-shrub that propels Seymour to fame and fortune – for a bit, anyway.
Major kudos to Aberg and Scutt for delivering what feels like a genuinely fresh take: plants are made from various toilet and kitchen utensils; grey tower blocks are wheeled about by the town’s homeless in shopping trollies and dumpsters; each costume drags the world from monochrome to technicolour. The best choice is to make Audrey II a person rather than a puppet. Not that the production completely eschews the technical opportunities; Scutt and Max Humphries have produced some great creature moments. But having drag superstar Vicky Vox deliver bratty, poison ivy, venus fly-trap realness as the sentient plant allows Aberg to make the production more dynamic.
Vox isn’t alone in excelling. Seymour is a nerd in the George McFly vein, perilously close to being annoying and creepy; Antolin treads this line perfectly, hinting at the problems with this “Nice Guy” without becoming unlikeable. Rooper is the heart of the show, making sure the narrative’s tricky take on domestic violence is taken seriously, while Willis is sort of a revelation as the nasty, nitrous-huffing Orin – especially when gurning in a gas mask during Now.
Everything is helped by fact that the musical is full of underrated bangers. The sweeping, place-setting Skid Row rivals any traditional Broadway belter. Suddenly Seymour is far sweeter than it has any right to be. And Feed Me is its stomping Friend Like Me moment, Ashman and Menken sanitising the former when writing the latter a decade later for Disney’s Aladdin.
There’s a temptation to dismiss Little Shop of Horrors as an herbaceous, vivacious romp and nothing more. But that isn’t quite the case. For all the botanical bloodlust and verdant violence, there are a variety of different ideas being satirised – some, admittedly, in ways more fully formed than others. It’s a sour version of the American dream, a resolutely working-class story about what people allow themselves to expect from life and the crap they put up with, one that touches on eco-revenge and the perils of fame-hunger. Oh, and its just so much goddamn fun.
Photos: Johan Persson
Little Shop of Horrors is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 22nd September until 22nd September 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.