first night

Little Shop of Horrors

Sam Kingston-Jones finds another strong contribution from Hild Bede Theatre...

 Rhyming ‘tawdry’ with ‘Audrey’, Little Shop of Horrors is not a dramatic text that takes itself too seriously, but this does not take away from the fact that director Charlie Oulton pitches the tone of the production perfectly. From start to finish the piece is engagingly off-beat and nothing short of hilarious.

Looking back at the film, the musical never seemed that funny but here the directorial flourishes work with the actors to squeeze every drop of humour from the script. It is slick, polished and timed to perfection, using every aspect of production from offstage remarks to music to grotesque photos of gum disease, to make the experience more enjoyable. 

There is sometimes a tendency to skip over the smaller details, such as the absence of water in a watering can or it being forever six o’clock and, admittedly these are tiny but when the direction is this good, they deserve to be fixed.

Performances are slightly more variable but Muething heads the bill without a blemish of carelessness. His performance is nigh on faultless, exhibiting a nerdy charisma from a character that could have so easily been irritating. Joe Skelton’s performance as the greasy Jewish shopkeeper, Mushnik, is similarly standout and if his role as a roving mime in DDF had not already served him well, Little Shop marks him out as one of the best physical actors at Durham. Freddie Harman, although slightly unsure of his character’s accent, again carries great charisma and really comes into his own as he dies of laughter, nailing the maniacal panic in his last moments.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see the effects of nitrous oxide used in the choreography as each one of the Ronnettes became suddenly drowsy on being administered the drug by the sleazy dentist. The show may not have the most fluid of choreography but Imogen Beech’s work had a clear eye for comedy, especially in an edging-towards-inappropriate tango between father and adopted son.

The Ronnettes themselves were engaging, channelling the sass in varying degrees of success (Lily Drake and Emily Roome being particular standouts), but all of these trembled at the feet of the soul queen that was Hannah Cope as Audrey II. The plant prop itself although slightly underwhelming when moving its mouth in time to the words, managed to claw back an element of aggression through Cope’s gravelly vocals. This is not to undermine the puppetry of Will Hannam, whose biceps must be the size of boulders, but the lumbersome plant sadly didn’t allow for any subtlety of movement.

Nonetheless, HBT’s Little Shop of Horrors does what Day of the Triffids never could and makes vegetation mildly menacing. The production is slick, well-directed and performed, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

* * * *

Sam Kingston-Jones

3 March 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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