The already gloriously OTT tale of Audrey II, the rampaging man-eating plant, and those unlucky enough to fall into her feeding range, gets an extra twist in Maria Aberg’s exuberant open-air production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’.
Here, Audrey II is no mere puppet (although at meal times there are plenty of green-clad stagehands waving tentacles). No, when she reaches full maturity, she is transformed into human shape – specifically the fierce and fabulous form of American drag queen Vicky Vox, who stalks the stage in killer heels, rainbow wig and skin-tight sequins, bellowing ‘Feed me’ in a voice like a Chicago house diva while spritzing her bits with a plant mister.
It says a lot about the rest of the cast that they can hold their own against Vox’s riotous interventions. But everyone throws themselves into the anarchic humour of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s cult classic musical. Marc Antolin as dweeby Seymour, who makes a Faustian pact with the nightmare plant – her nurture in exchange for his fame and riches – is both manically daft and touchingly troubled. Jemima Rooper as Audrey, the object of Seymour’s affection, deals adroitly with the dodgy humour around her being an abuse victim – and sings so sweetly about her dream of suburban mediocrity in ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ that it brings a tear to your eye.
Matt Willis (of Busted fame) is savagely silly as Orin, her sadistic, nitrous oxide-huffing dentist-biker boyfriend – then increasingly game for a laugh in a series of cameos in the second half. And the chorus of Christina Modestou, Seyi Omooba and Renée Lamb keep the energy up as they blast through the sassy soul, doo-wop and rock ’n’ roll inspired musical numbers.
Tom Scutt’s inventive design – a cartoonish, post-apocalyptic New York-cum-demolished drive-in movie theatre – is fun, but doesn’t leave a lot of room for the cast to manoeuvre through Lizzi Gee’s peppy choreography. His costume designs, however, for the finale of ‘Don’t Feed the Plants’, have to be seen to be believed. And what a perfect setting for a slice of horticultural horror – the trees whispering and swaying above the theatre stage have never looked so menacing.