Review: Little Shop Of Horrors

The greenery wants its grub – Little Shop Of Horrors. Photographs: Chris Midgley

Some shows grow on you like creeping ivy, others just knock you dead from the start like an oak tree dropping on your head. Little Shop Of Horrors is definitely in the latter category.

Little Shop Of Horrors by York Orchard Theatre Company

Joseph Rowntree Theatre

June 29-July 2 2016

York Orchard website

From the moment Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon sing the title number in pin-sharp three-point harmony, you can’t fail to love this raucous, bonkers, fantastically entertaining show.

And that is down to a combination of the York Orchard Theatre Company’s astonishingly talented ensemble and their tireless hard work behind the scenes.

Little Shop Of Horrors tells the story of downbeat Skid Row orphan Seymour Krelborn who works in a failing florists. Seymour’s discovery of an alien plant leads to fame, riches and romance – but it comes at a price.

The plant, you see, has a taste for human blood – and quite the appetite.

Joyful music

The doo-wop girls, Phoebe Cooper, Daisy Blue Ella and Natalia Leaper
The doo-wop girls, Phoebe Cooper, Daisy Blue Ella and Natalia Leaper

This production, the very impressive directorial debut of Megan Conway, is fast, furious and very funny. And the music, a combination of Sixties rock’n’roll, doo-wop and Motown, never short of joyful.

The depth of talent in Orchard is seen in a cracking series of cameos. Whether it’s Robin Morgan as a sleepy baritone wino, Annie Donaghy showing great comic timing as the big-spending customer, or Isaac Greenhill (who we recognised as a talented baker from Junior Bake Off – clearly a young man at home on stage and screen) playing the fast-talking agent, the supporting cast made a huge contribution.

They were part of an all-ages ensemble which never gave anything less than their all, with some rafter-trembling choruses and nifty footwork.

And the leading actors were, without exception, superb. Sam Lightfoot-Loftus was, if anything, wilder and crazier as sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello than Steve Martin, who played the role in the 1986 movie.

Joe Collins’ comedy chops are put to great use in his role as cynical shop-owner Mr Mushnik – his tango-infused duet with Seymour in Mushnik and Son just one of many LOL moments.

Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon – played by Phoebe Cooper, Daisy Blue Ella and Natalia Leaper respectively – are the beating heart of the show. Able to switch from sassy to sad to sweet on a dime, they each have terrific solo voices which they combine to marvellous effect from curtain up to final bow.

Outstanding leads

Success story… Audrey (Beth Stevens) and Seymour
Success story… Audrey (Beth Stevens) and Seymour

Beth Stevens is a revelation as Audrey. She plays the tragi-comic heroine with beautifully-judged pathos. Just as her nasal Bronx accent hides a remarkably powerful singing voice – Somewhere That’s Green is a real show-stopper – so her comic delivery never overpowers the vulnerable and sweet girl who Seymour falls in love with.

And George Stagnell simply is Seymour. The Skid Row loser who never abandons his dreams, George’s Seymour has a special mix of tenderness, intelligence, humour and charm that means he never loses our support even as he despatches half of the cast down the gullet of the plant.

Of course the show couldn’t work without a talking, singing, scheming plant. No easy feat but the physical prowess of puppeteer Sean Ruane and the scarily impressive vocals of Will Jackson as the voice of Audrey II, united into one crazy son-of-a-petunia performance.

Technical achievement

Sam Lightfoot-Loftus as crazy dentist Orin Scrivello (DDS)
Sam Lightfoot-Loftus as crazy dentist Orin Scrivello (DDS)

The music was stunning throughout, an even greater achievement considering the youth of the musical director Ben Papworth and his assistant, 13-year-old Sam Melvin. Well done to a terrific band too.

Choreographer Rachel Dennison did a wonderful job of reflecting and enhancing the musical numbers with style and sensitivity.

With its crazy sound effects, swift lighting switches, costume and set changes, Little Shop Of Horrors is a technically demanding show. So hats off to the production team for flawlessly pulling it off: producer Justine Hughes, Luke Hutchinson (production design), Nick Lay (lighting) and Joel Suter (sound).

If you’ve missed Little Shop Of Horrors, bad luck. It was a fabulous night out. But do look out for York Orchard Theatre Company’s next show, these are the stars of the future.