04/11/16 - Little Shop of Horrors at the Palace Theatre

Some of you may remember that a while ago, I published a review of the Royal Exchange’s Little Shop of Horrors (if you’d like a refresher, you can find that post here).  It was an absolutely spectacular rendering of the material and I enthused endlessly about it to everyone I knew for weeks afterwards – in fact, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally still bring it up to this day.  It was a truly outstanding experience and really fuelled my passion for a musical which I hadn’t known an awful lot about previously.  So when I saw that another production of Howard Ashton and Alan Menken’s cult classic was coming to Manchester, this time to the Palace Theatre, I was torn.  Part of me was keen to revisit this wonderfully fun show, which features some great numbers, but I worried that it would never live up to that excellent Royal Exchange production.

 Of course that’s never the way to think about these things, so I was able to shake off the element of comparison as I headed into the theatre.  I knew that the two productions would be very different, primarily down to the differences between the two theatres, and so there would be no way to compare like-with-like.  The current touring production is set on a proscenium arch stage, with the shop front of Mushnik’s florists taking pride of place in the row of slightly cartoonish grimy buildings and flying up to reveal the interior of the shop.  A lovely touch is having the three piece band onstage, albeit slightly hidden.  You can just see the outline of MD Dustin Conrad and his keys through the dusty shop window of the Skid Row Music Box.  It’s easy to see how this staging can be transferred and adapted easily to suit each theatre on the tour, and it’s effective in creating the urban ambience of down-at-heel Skid Row.

©  Matt Martin Photography

I found the marketing for this production to be particularly interesting.  I think I was vaguely aware when we booked it that Rhydian – yes, of X Factor fame – would be playing the role of Audrey’s abusive dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello…DDS.  I’d seen him in all his gold hot-panted glory as Rocky in Rocky Horror back in 2013, so I knew that he did musical theatre but I’ll be honest, I didn’t really give it a second thought.  So I was a bit surprised to find that he was pretty much the only person featured on most of the marketing material, even taking pride of place on the cover of the programme!  I know that a bit of ‘star casting’ can bring in the punters, but I was fascinated by the decision to make him so prominent without even so much as Audrey II sharing the limelight with him.  Anyone who went along and bought a ticket solely due to the draw of Rhydian would not be disappointed – once he had settled into his accent he gave a confident and competent performance, but there are plenty of other elements to enjoy.

©  Matt Martin Photography

The show was everything you would want from a performance of Little Shop – camp and hammy thanks to its B-movie influences with toe-tapping tunes and a huge bloodthirsty puppet plant, voiced by Neil Nicholas and controlled by puppeteer Josh Wilmott.  Sam Lupton’s Seymour was the standout performance; very versatile, swinging from sincere and tender in ‘Suddenly Seymour’ to truly psychotic and underneath his meek exterior, he’s got quite a set of lungs on him.  The show’s trio of energetic ragamuffin narrators deliver gorgeous harmonies and sass by the bucketload.  There are some very funny moments, a few of which unfortunately didn’t land quite as well as they could have done, and overall the audience had a fantastic evening judging by the cheering at the end and between songs, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre.  It landed perfectly as well, coming to Manchester over Halloween week – what better way to celebrate the spookiest day of the year?

©  Matt Martin Photography

Ticket information can be found on the tour’s official website, so have a look and see if it’s coming to a theatre near you in the remainder of its run – it’s a cracking night out for fans of the show and full of camp nostalgic fun!

Let me know if you've seen this production, or if you intend to!

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