02/01/15 - Little Shop of Horrors at the Royal Exchange

Most people are familiar with Little Shop of Horrors.  Whether you're an avid fan of the musical or are just aware of the plot and can vaguely hum the opening song in the same way that everyone knows the famous Phantom chords, I imagine it hasn't entirely passed you by.  It's become something of a cult classic; originally a Roger Corman film in 1960, it was adapted for the stage in 1982 by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken before the musical was remade for the silver screen by Frank Oz in 1986.  Well, it's back and it's taking Manchester by storm at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

I'd been aware that the production was happening, the Royal Exchange's alternative offering to your usual pantomime, but had no concrete plans to see it.  On a whim, Shaun queued up for the opening of the box office one morning and bagged us £10 banquette seats for that evening as a little pre-Christmas treat - what a guy, eh?  After a little umming and ahhing over where to settle ourselves on the unassigned seats (low benches in front of the first row of stalls), we were advised by an usher as to where would provide the best view.  And from the moment the lights went down, I was pretty much stunned.

For those who aren't familiar with the ins and outs of the plot, the story centres around timid Seymour Krelbourn (Gunnar Cauthery) and his colleague Audrey (Kelly Price) who work in Mr Mushnik's (Sévan Stephan) failing florist shop on Skid Row, a down-and-out part of town where everyone is hoping for better and getting nowhere.  When Seymour discovers a strange and interesting plant which he names Audrey II, he hopes that the fame and fortune that come along with it will help him to win the real Audrey away from Orin Scrivello, her abusive dentist boyfriend played wonderfully by Ako Mitchell.  When Audrey II (voiced by Nuno Silva) takes on a terrifying life of its own and begins demanding more than Seymour is willing to give, much hilarity and high drama ensues as we explore the lengths to which even the most well-meaning of us can be corrupted and cajoled into questionable decisions.  That might not sound like a fun evening out to you, but trust me - the catchy tunes and silly humour do much to detract from the cautionary tale aspects of the story.  The result is a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre that has a little something for everyone.

Photo credit goes to the Royal Exchange Theatre.
The whole production was nothing short of spectacular.  From the off, I knew that we were in for a treat.  The plot is narrated and commented on by our sassy Sixties-style girl group of a Greek chorus featuring the voices of Ellena Vincent, Joelle Moses and Ibanabo Jack who open the show beautifully.  The theatre-in-the-round setting could have presented a problem to director Derek Bond and designer James Perkins, but the minimalist set is the perfect use of the space and the scene changes are efficiently executed with pieces of set such as Mushnik's shop counter and Scrivello's dentist chair whizzing around on wheels, as and when they are needed.  Of course, the most impressive aspect of the show's design is the incredible feat of engineering that is Audrey II.  Starting life as a meagre little bud in a battered toffee tin, it isn't long before it takes three puppeteers (Silva, assisted by James Charlton and CJ Johnson) to control the plant's menacing tentacles and hungry jaws.  Without the usual proscenium arch stage to help hide any mechanics, Audrey II is given the freedom to come to life as a growing, moving and feeding organism.

Photo credit goes to the Royal Exchange Theatre.
The cast make an impressive ensemble but of course every production has its show-stealer.  For me, this was Ako Mitchell.  He had big shoes to fill as he stepped into the role made famous by Steve Martin, but it was refreshing to see him make the role his own (there's the X Factor judge in me coming out) and he created a terrifyingly twisted character as well as a host of others as he also took on a handful of smaller roles, including a number in which he plays three characters within the space of one song.  For me and Shaun, he really was the star of the show!

I will make one warning: although I would say that this is a family show, be careful if you're with any littlies of a slightly nervous disposition.  On our second outing to see Little Shop (that's how good this production is!), we were sat opposite four girls who couldn't have been more than ten years old who seemed a little wary of Audrey II, particularly come the climax of the show.  I will admit, there were bits that made me jump even when I knew they were coming!

Photo credit goes to the Royal Exchange Theatre.
The show's run has been extended by two weeks and it will now be closing on Saturday 31st January 2015, so that gives you more time to get yourself down to the Royal Exchange if you can!  Tickets are available here or banquette seats are available from 10am on the day of the performance from the box office on a first-come-first-served basis.  It's a fantastic production with a stellar cast and I would recommend it to anyone.

Let me know if you've already seen this production, or if you intend to before it closes!

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