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little shop of horrors
Little Shop of Horrors - Image Pamela Raith

Little Shop of Horrors – Review

Little Shop of Horrors at New Wolsey Theatre

The brand-new production of the musical, Little Shop of Horrors, is currently playing at the New Wolsey Theatre – and the mean green monster musical is simply a delectable smash hit! Little Shop of Horrors, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, and music by Alan Menken, originally premiered in off-off-Broadway in 1982, before receiving numerous productions in the U.S. and abroad, including on Broadway itself.

The New Wolsey Theatre was packed during a Saturday afternoon when Ipswich Town Football Club were playing at home, which speaks volumes about the enormous appeal of this unique horror/comedy musical. The narrative is set in 1960s New York City, in Mr Mushnik’s florist shop, which is situated down on Skid Row. The set is effective, but not overdone: an angular shopfloor, an alley complete with garbage bins and an abandoned shopping trolley, a neon sign and space above the set for the superb live band.

The story follows Seymour, a green-fingered orphan who was taken in by Mr Mushnik, the owner of the flower shop. Seymour is secretly in love with his glamorous co-worker, Audrey. However, Audrey is trapped in a domestically abusive relationship with a sadistic dentist, Orin. Business is so bad that Mr Mushnik threatens to close the shop, but the clumsy and jittery Seymour has a proposition: he will save the shop with a strange plant, resembling a Venus flytrap, that he names Audrey 2 in honour of his secret crush.

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The plant is a sensation, and its growing notoriety saves the flower shop, bringing celebrity status to Seymour. Business is booming, but the plant has a dark secret: it needs blood to grow and demands incessantly “feed me, Seymour!”  This leads to some dark deeds and both Orin and Mr Mushnik are fed to the rapacious Audrey 2. A succession of puppets is used to portray the plant as it grows from a cute green curiosity to a huge monstrosity, dominating the set. Audrey 2 is played by the incredible and charismatic Anton Stephans, and his mesmerising, feisty portrayal is hugely entertaining.

Laura Jane Matthewson plays Audrey: her acting and singing bring a beautiful poignancy to this sensitive role. In the solo ‘Somewhere That’s Green,’ Matthewson sings expressively about her longing for a piece of suburban safety, not an overly ambitious dream but one that seems far out of her reach due to her controlling boyfriend, Orin. Matthew Ganley plays the role of Orin with Machiavellian delight, bringing a warped energy to the performance. Oliver Mawdsley plays Seymour, who is a lovable hero for our times: geeky and underconfident but with a true and loyal heart.

The rock and roll numbers throughout this show are beautifully sung, from the opening number ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ right through to the high-energy finale ‘Don’t Feed the Plants.’ A trio of street urchins comprised of three female singer-musicians bring a wonderful and knowing energy to the show. Keyboardist Janna May plays Chiffon, while guitarists Chardai Shaw and Zweyla Mitchell dos Santos play Ronnette and Crystal, respectively. The chemistry between the trio was spot on and the harmonies were sublime. The choreography was serviceable, but Zweyla stood out with the extra sassiness that she brought to the simple moves.

The talented cast had the audience laughing, tapping their feet, and totally engrossed in the fantastical tale. This off-beat comedic musical was certainly different to anything I have seen before. The finale was energetic and captivating, bringing this show to a triumphant close. The audience roared their approval and gave the cast a well-deserved standing ovation.

This touring co-production between the New Wolsey Theatre, Bolton Octagon Theatre, Theatre By The Lake and Hull Truck Theatre runs until Saturday 23 March in Ipswich. Catch a chance to see this wonderfully quirky 5-star show while you still can.

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