Little Shop of Horrors

Jan 26 2024 | By More

★★★★☆   Inventive

Church Hill Theatre: Tue 23 – Sat 27 Jan 2024
Review by Thom Dibdin

Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group has brought plenty of invention to the store in its pleasing production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s B-movie musical, Little Shop of Horrors, at the Church Hill Theatre.

Much of the show’s pre-opening hype focussed either on its anti-capitalist critique or its new feminist representation of Audrey, the usually ditzy shop assistant in a failing Skid Row flower shop. While both are true, to an extent, in the event both are significant misdirections, for which major credit must go to co-producer Mathilde Duché.

The real innovation from directors Tom Beazley and Amy Stinton comes elsewhere: in the show’s representation of its horror element: the “strange and interesting” plant found by Audrey’s dweeby co-worker, Seymour Krelborn, and named Audrey II in her honour.

Connor O’Cuinn as Seymour, with a young Audrey II. Pic: Andrew Morris.

In keeping with the Skid Row setting, there’s a scuzzy and jagged-round-the-edges vibe to the whole production. Junkies hang out round the bins outside Mushnik’s flower shop and the three orphans who provide the Motown-inspired Greek Chorus, are (mostly) dressed down to fit the environs.

At the heart of all this is Seymour, surely one of the great anti-heroes of musical theatre. Conor O’Cuinn does him complete justice. His deliciously smooth singing voice belies the put-upon, underdog demeanour he creates for the character; who can’t believe that Audrey would look at him – and is grateful that Mushnik not only took him in as an orphan but also lets lets him sleep under the counter.

sadistic, motorbike-riding dentist

Allison Lavercombe’s Audrey doesn’t particularly push the boundaries in terms of representation. She’s not the bimbo in kitten heels and low-cut dresses of the original, but she still has barrel-scraping self esteem and is stuck in an abusive relationship with a sadistic, motorbike-riding dentist.

Nash Nørgaard is near-perfect as that dentist, Orin Scrivello: positively revelling in his hunky good looks, treating Audrey like dirt and generally being as loathsome a narcissist as the role demands.

Allison Lavercombe and company. Pic: Andrew Morris

As shop owner, Mushnik, Hunter King is as imposing as he needs to be. He’s busy, distracted and at the end of his tether enough to let Seymour and Audrey put their strange and interesting plant in the shop window.

The near realistic characterisation of all three helps make this hum along. Scrivello is often a cartoon character, but Nørgaard adds enough to ensure he is more than just a pantomime baddy. And all three provide more than adequate vocal support.

maximum glee

Around this realism, there is the plant itself. Or “themself”, as Audrey II takes a character of its own. This is usually done with increasingly large puppets, not dissimilar to the Piranha Plant familiar to fans of Super Mario, and voiced off stage.

Here, after a couple of hand-held puppet iterations, the plant is played  – with maximum glee – by Thaddeus Buttrey. And although Buttrey is initially confined to a pot, he is soon able to strut the stage, giving Audrey II additional menace and liberating the production itself, making it much easier to move the focus around the stage.

Thaddeus Buttrey with Connor O’Cuinn. Pic: Andrew Morris

The staging of it all is very good indeed. Particularly Audrey II. Eva Mortensen’s costume for Buttrey is a wonderful combination of botanical and camp, while Matias Krook’s lighting when Audrey II is posed in their pot, enhances the effect most gloriously. And they grow ever larger, effective use is made of the rest of the ensemble as extra, writhing, tentacles.

The only quibble lies in the representation of the flower shop in the second half where it could start to get a lot more glamorous. Indeed, by not becoming so, the glistening and artificial lure of capitalism that underlies the whole piece is softened. Still, that point is adequately taken up by Audrey II.

natural vocal trio

The storytelling of the whole piece is helped along by Gemma Iseka-Bekano, Marie Keinde and Duha Bilal as the three orphans. They are a natural vocal trio, taking turns on lead and snapping tightly in to Emily Bealer’s choreography. Their only failing is that their spoken dialogue is not crystal clear. Otherwise, the whole company ensure that vocals and spoken dialogue are easily understood.

The band in the pit, under MD Emily Paterson, are tight and clearly enjoying the groove of the whole piece as they positively drive it along.

All told, this is a real pleasure to watch, while providing a nice frisson of chill in a properly B-movie kind of a way.

Running time: Two hours and ten minutes (including one interval).
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10 4DR.
Tue 23 – Sat 27 Jan 2024.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The cast of Little Shop of Horrors. Pic: Andrew Morris


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