Review: Little Shop of Horrors at Storyhouse, Chester

Little Shop of Horrors at Storyhouse, Chester, 2019

By Nigel Smith

HOWARD Ashman and Alan Menken’s stage version of Little Shop of Horrors has acquired wide appeal through its deceptively small-scale cast and orchestrations. In his new production for Chester’s Storyhouse, director / choreographer Stephen Mear really capitalises on the intimacy of the show. The adaptable auditorium is used here in its 500-seat thrust stage configuration, which gives the show an immersive audience experience while setting some interesting design challenges.

Several of the creative team are making welcome returns to the Storyhouse stage. Musical Director Alex Beetschen and his band can occasionally be glimpsed through the window of Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist, which forms the background to Jess Curtis’s gloriously detailed 1950s set, pulling the story backward to the musical era that it draws so much from. Outstanding sound design from Ben Harrison fills the space with their music, and perfectly balances with the voices, so that every syllable of Ashman’s witty lyrics is sharply defined. The opening company numbers ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ and ‘Skid Row Downtown’ really set the tone and pace for the entire show. It rattles along with well-judged pacing and time seems to slip by effortlessly.

You probably already know the story… The other-worldly carnivorous plant, Audrey II, brings fame and fortune to Seymour, a hapless florist’s assistant, while at the same time feeding off his blood. Eventually Seymour embarks on a murderous spree to satisfy the plant’s voracious appetite. Meanwhile, Seymour and the human Audrey move in ever decreasing circles in their unspoken love for each other.

Joshua Lay and Michelle Bishop make a great couple as the downtrodden Seymour and his seemingly unattainable sweetheart Audrey. They are splendidly supported by Cindy Belliot, Emily-Mae and Tanisha Spring as the all-singing all-dancing trio of Chiffon, Ronette and Crystal. Tony Timberlake may present a shabby appearance as the cynical florist Mushnik, but there’s certainly nothing shabby about his performance. Meanwhile Stephane Anelli has enormous fun with his larger than life characterisation of Orin, the slick-haired, motorcycling demon dentist. A very clever piece of design here is Orin’s bike, which cunningly doubles as his dentist’s chair.

The entire ensemble has been very skilfully cast, and all deliver immaculate vocals along with their sharp dance moves. Of course, there are two performers who we don’t get to see until the curtain call… Ryan O’Gorman provides a persuasively velvet voice for the bloodthirsty Audrey II, and puppeteer Brett Shiels brings the uncontrollable pot plant vividly to life. Particularly impressive is the extraordinarily realistic lip-syncing that O’Gorman and Shiels achieve, making it hard not to believe it’s alive.

Curtis’s designs include an array of costumes that are perfectly in period, and her set reaches out into the auditorium in a cobweb of tangled wires and tendrils.

The story is undeniably kitsch schlock-horror, but with so much attention to detail it makes for a first-class evening’s entertainment, sending the audience home wearing huge smiles.

Little Shop of Horrors is at Storyhouse until 2nd June