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"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Friday, August 10, 2018

Little Shop of Horrors @OpenAirTheatre "a great musical, nicely done." Full review ->

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to the first preview performance of comedy rock musical The Little Shop of Horrors at the Open Air Theatre in London's glitzy Regent's Park. Regent's Park? How appropriate... Somewhere that's Green.

In fact, the park was a particularly well thought out setting dressed as it was as a cross between The Day Of the Triffids and Rocky Horror Show.

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's fabulous 1982 musical, based on a low-budget 1960 movie of the same name, is a celebration of early Motown and rock and roll music, with a bizarre plot and plenty of black comedy. It is a well-loved show and possibly one of my favourite musicals so we were really hoping they wouldn't fuck it up.

From the moment Julian Clary (the voice of the prologue) states those opening lines, "On the 23rd day of the month of September in an early year of a decade not too long before our own the human race suddenly encountered a deadly threat to its very existence. And this terrifying enemy surfaced, as such enemies often do in the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places." And the band struck up, we knew we are on safe ground though. The singing was good, the theatrics nice, and the staging clever.

For director Maria Aberg (best known for directing Dr Faustus and The White Devil at the RSC) this is her Open Air Theatre debut so there must have been some pressure on her. Creating a giant carnivorous plant, the realisation of which is the linchpin of the show, is not the easiest task, and designer Tom Scutt (Jesus Christ Superstar) makes a game attempt at it. Sadly, it doesn't always quite come off though.

This is the story of geek plant shop worker Seymour (Marc Antolin, very impressive) who is secretly in love with co-worker Audrey (I'd enjoyed Jemima Roper before in Hand Of God and Midsummer Night's Dream but she comes into her own here) who discovers a strange and interesting new plant that transforms the fortunes of his Skid Row florist.

Drag queen Vicky Vox makes her theatrical debut here as the voice of said strange and interesting new plant (named Audrey II) and it is a role that is at the heart of this fun-packed musical. It is this casting of Vox, a member of the band Tranzkuntinental, that is the absolute making or breaking of the show. And she almost nails it.

We only saw a preview but we'd advise Ms Vox to relax and enjoy it a little more – and that she can get away with even more of what's she's bringing to this absolute blast of a performance. It was as her cries of 'Feed me' grew wilder in the 2nd half and she scratched at her crotch with a pitchfork that I realised that I wanted her to be even more outlandish. She's essentially Divine‘s sassier and more fabulous daughter so she should just go for it!

It is a role however that's more than matched by Matt Willis from Busted as the evil dentist boyfriend of Audrey's who boasts a maniacal laugh and fondness for nitrous oxide that renders him pure Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest goes Twin Peaks.

Fans of the musical can rest easy though that despite all the scene-stealing by both plant and dentist the romance at its heart, and the score's best song, Suddenly Seymour, remains as moving as ever.

Special mention does need to go to Skid Row street girls Renée Lamb, Christina Modestou and Seyi Omooba who absolutely boss their roles as Crystal, Ronnette, and Chiffon and bring a real sense of location to the early part of the show. I also loved the skyscrapers in shopping trolleys that the cast wheel about. Forbes Masson as shop owner Mr Mushnik is especially good value too.

The Regent's Park Open Air Theatre has a tradition of its musicals being Olivier Award-nominated and we wouldn't bet against Little Shop Of Horrors featuring in 2019's show.

The audience leapt to its feet in acclaim at the show's encore of 'Mean Green Mother From Outer Space' in a flurry of green beach balls flung into the audience and fantastical plant-based costumes.

So a great musical, nicely done. But not a patch on the original production, the film or the Menier Chocolate Factory revival a few years back.


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