Review - Little Shop of Horrors at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
When you enter the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park for this year’s musical offering – a revival of the cult classic Little Shop of Horrors – you’ll be greeted by Tom Scutt’s striking design of a derelict concrete jungle (aka Skid Row), generously graffitied with slogans that read “The End is Here,” which, of course, will soon transform into a different kind of jungle altogether… one that’s infested with 'Mean Green Mothers from Outer Space'!
Although Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman’s careers skyrocketed after the success of their scores for the cherished Disney animated classics “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin,” it was actually this 1982 off-Broadway musical (itself based on a low-budget 1960 black comedy film) that first put the duo on the map, so to speak. The story follows Seymour, a dweebish florist assistant, who discovers a strange, exotic plant that draws great public attention, revitalising the business and turning him into a celebrity in the process. The gruesome dilemma, however, is that the plant, christened Audrey II (after his colleague and object of his affections), requires human flesh and blood to survive and flourish… Well, naturally.
The eclectic score features doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll-infused show tunes and has spawned a handful of hits such as "Somewhere That's Green," "Suddenly, Seymour," and the title song. And the simple moral of the tale – not to give into temptation at the cost of one’s own ethical code – is spelled out in a gloriously absurd “Finale Ultimo (Don’t Feed the Plants)”.
The Open Air Theatre’s revival is a welcomed, giddy distraction to the ongoing tedium that goes by the name of Brexit and the production garnered a fair amount of buzz due to the casting of a Drag Queen as Audrey II (in the place of a traditional puppet), flying in American star Vicky Vox (a former member of pop group DWV) to do the honours. Unsurprisingly, nobody knows how to make an entrance or pull focus quite like a Drag Queen, with Vox confidently prowling around the stage and resembling the love child of TOWIE’s Gemma Collins and a bag of Skittles, and her voice is the perfect fit to play the man-eating plant. Does this new theatrical device pay off? And then some!
There is also great work from Jemima Rooper as Audrey (I), proving she has the singing chops to go with her established acting career. There is something unavoidably dated and uncomfortable about the comic use of domestic abuse in the musical, but Rooper does well to focus our attentions on Audrey’s issues of self-chastisement and low self-esteem. Opposite her, Marc Antolin was simply born to play Seymour with an endearing quality to him that just can’t be teached, whilst the urchin trio of Renée Lamb (as Chiffon), Christina Modestou (as Ronnette), and Seyi Omooba (as Crystal) essentially keep up the pace and energy levels as the perhaps slightly underappreciated thread of the piece. In addition, “Busted” star Matt Willis shows a fearless enthusiasm to play the fool and shows off a versatility of caricatures and accents, as demented dentist Orin in the first half and a host of other over-the-top figures in the second half.
Under the direction of Maria Aberg, there are some minor issues of pacing, particularly in the first half, which aren’t aided by the logistics of an occasionally overcrowded stage of skyscrapers being wheeled around in shopping trolleys and dumpsters, but the second half flows much more smoothly and ends with a crowd-rousing rendition of “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” – the Oscar-nominated song specifically written for Frank Oz’s 1986 movie adaptation.
So, if you’re in the mood for some overtly camp and outlandish distraction, then I say head down to the lush, green surroundings of Regent’s Park, but – for crying out loud – don’t feed the plants!
Photo credit: Johan Persson