Everyone loves a potted plant. They’re a great way to brighten up a room, bring a bit of life into your home; in fact, I’ve just invested in some myself. Now, however, I’m tempted to take them back to the shop – because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Little Shop of Horrors it’s that your pot plant, charming and friendly as it may seem, might just be plotting world domination.
That said, there is an upside. If your houseplants do start to get a bit murderous, at least they’ll do it in style, with vibrant musical numbers, swinging dance moves, and a generous composting of hilarity to boot. That’s certainly the case if Exeter’s Shotgun Theatre have anything to do with it, anyway, as they deliver a fantastically enjoyable rendition of Little Shop this January.
Something of a Little Shop virgin myself, I didn’t quite know what to expect. A musical about a killer alien plant? Stranger things have happened, it’s true. Yet the excitement from the opening night crowd was palpable, and once the show kicked off with the prologue – swiftly followed by ‘Skid Row (Downtown)’, which gave the ensemble cast an opportunity to introduce their excellent collective talent – it wasn’t hard to see why. Soon, I too was entranced by this zany tale of love, murder, and horticulture – in fact, you could say it really grew on me (…sorry).
The excitement from the opening night crowd was palpable
The characters were played to perfection, complete with comically exaggerated accents and mannerisms. Here, honourable mentions certainly go to Tom Dean’s Orin, who – like some malevolent side-character from Grease – instilled me with an unforeseen fear both of dentists and anybody who rocks a leather jacket, and Rachael Crozier’s (Ms.) Mushnik, who thoroughly convinced as the type of older woman who might just run a run-down downtown flower shop, complete with stoop and drawl. Dean’s rendition of ‘Dentist!’ was perhaps the highlight of the first act, performed with such stage presence and panache that one could believe the audience too had been indulging in a bit of nitrous oxide. Both Dean and Crozier continued to play a whole wardrobe’s worth of extra characters during act two, which probably put as much strain on the costume changes backstage as it did on the split sides of the enthused audience.
Audrey and Seymour (Saffron Wainwright and Sean Wareing) shone as the awkwardly adorable lovestruck leads – I think I can safely say that the whole of the audience were rooting for them. Meanwhile Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronette (Gina Rees, Emily Rose Stead, and Darcie Cochrane) arguably provided the beating heart of the show, present in almost every scene, perfectly choreographed and bringing forth that all-important 60s vibe. Yet if anybody stole the show, then – true to the plot – it might just have been Alma Crespo, who elicited full-blown cheers and whoops from the audience as homicidal pot-plant Audrey II by means of her immensely powerful vocals, fully complementing the menacing, alluring, and forceful presence of the show’s key villain. All of this was made possible, of course, by the behind-the-scenes work not only of musical director Robert Wingfield, but also of Audrey II’s puppeteers, Connor Spence and Stanley Gordon, who perfectly complemented the emotive personification provided by Crespo.
All in all, Little Shop proved to be a musical and comedic tour de force, worthy of all praise. Shotgun Theatre have truly done justice to this cult classic and – if you have the time this week (15-18 January) – be sure to check it out. It’s sure to be “bigger than Hula-Hoops”.