Review: Little Shop of Horrors @ Palace Theatre

Picture the scene: Two young florists destined for each other, forced apart by a merciless dentist in an American slum which is tormented by an overgrown plant.

No other musical is on the level of Howard Ashman’s Little Shop of Horrors when it comes to twists and turns.

Unlike the happy-go-lucky narratives of some musicals, this show reveals a world of poverty, delinquency and desperation hidden behind the veil of one radiant smile: that of sickly-sweet, damsel-in-distress Audrey, played by Stephanie Clift.

The 60s in America saw recession, the civil rights movement and political unrest, epitomised by the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and the set design of this show demonstrates how beneath the surface, the country, as well as the characters in this production, was scrambling around in panic.

The residents of Skid Row, a dirty, slum-like neighbourhood, suffer a whole range of dark misfortunes, particularly Audrey who is tormented by her abusive boyfriend, Orin (Rhydian).

She fantasises about a 12-inch TV and picket-fences whilst her hapless colleague Seymour (Sam Lupton) is obsessed with Audrey himself.

With origins in the Creature Features of 1950s, the show is laced with horror, sci-fi and romance, with a Dickensian set and the supporting cast of an alcoholic mother and a sizeable homeless community.

But the outrageous narrative about an out-of-control Venus flytrap, which enjoys a more gruesome diet than the odd Blue Bottle, means the audience can be transported into the fantasy of it and the comedy throughout is what makes it.

The music, typical larger-than-life personas and terror at every turn make this production particularly shocking, leaving the audience, particularly first-timers, with dropping jaws at each set change (which happens almost every five minutes).

It is perhaps quite difficult to replicate the experience of 1950s horror films for a modern audience, such as The Thing, The Fly and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but Little Shop is as close as it gets for musicals.

The audience is lured into this dreamy world of Motown music, reminiscent of The Supremes, to a place in which a sadistic dentist roams free to play out his sick fantasies on helpless victims.

Yet the musical also touches on more serious issues, that are indeed deeply rooted in a recession-hit America.

Domestic violence, poverty, homelessness and alcoholism all rest below the surface of its narrative: sometimes in the lyrics, sometimes hidden behind windows and doors.

Seymour’s own need to feed the plant for his own gain seems too close to Orin’s love of inflicting pain on anyone who is foolish enough to climb into his chair, leaving them to mirror each other in an unusual twist.

Overall, Little Shop of Horrors has black comedy at its heart, using the mask of humour and song to gloss over a dark storyline.

Little Shop of Horrors will return to the North West from November 22-26, where it will end its tour at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre.

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