When I was asked to do the preview of the latest Showstoppers offering, the director requested that–since I would be viewing a final rehearsal– I be ‘generous’ in my review: clearly, she had never read any of my previous reviews on the Soton Tab.
Nonetheless, as the layout of these reviews has the rating at the top, it’s clear already that what follows is not a brutally-delivered mauling. The musical is a story of the misfortunes of a florist who earns fame and riches through a fascinating (but ultimately evil) carnivorous plant. The show is good. It’s worth your time, and it’s fun. Happy? No? I’ll go into more detail:
Criticisms first, because I feel a pressing need to justify the lack of that fifth star, and because you already know the show is good. Most of my minor niggles with story and pacing are directly attributable to the script, rather than the cast and crew. The first few scenes lack a certain weight to pull you into the characters’ bizarre little world, some of the script feels cliched and under-written (particularly for the hapless shopkeeper Mr Mushnik, but we’ll come back to him), and the ending is abrupt. Nonetheless, the end of Act I and beginning of Act II shine, and by this stage you feel thoroughly invested in the lives and misfortunes of the characters.
The stage feels “cosy” in places, mostly down to the modest size of the Annex, and some of the props suffered teething problems although I imagine these will have been sorted for the opening show. Actually the props are worth further mention, because despite some flimsy looking window frames, and a somewhat unconvincing gas-mask, the work bringing the increasingly gigantic plant “Audrey 2″ to life is simply staggering. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “realistic”, but for a student run production with minimal costs it’s a fantastic feat of stage engineering and I feel a congratulations to the prop builders and operators must be due. Unusually, the lighting (normally an un-acknowledged aspect of a play) was noticeable and impressive. It’s not something I’ve ever really appreciated in a play before, but here the vibrant red and green effectively conveyed the mixture of botany and blood that punctuated the performance.
Now that we’re firmly in compliment-territory, I must make mention of the characters. Although his script could have been better, Robin Johnson’s Mr Mushnik was carried well, conveying his awkward stingy-ness and reaching a pinnacle of amusement in the heavily Jewish-sounding Mushnik and Son; one of the finest musical and comedy moments in the play. Audrey (played by Katie Passey) was superbly cast (not least for her powerful voice), and Chris Ball showed his versatility playing not only the cruel dentist character Orin, but a baffling array of side characters as well. The support characters providing the musical heart of the play, Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon (played by Robyn Fryer, Sarah Moir and Kitty Watson) were some of the finest singers I’ve heard in any musical, let alone student-run productions. Their harmonies and powerful tones were pitch-perfect and filled the room completely. I can’t overstate how impressed I was with their performances, especially for side characters. They were helped immensely by carrying some of the catchiest songs in the show (I defy you to get the opening number “Little Shop of Horrors” out of your head once you hear it).
Now, lastly, we come to Jeremy McCabe’s Seymour: protagonist, and undeniable star of the stage. Every time he spoke or sang he owned the room with his deliberately gawky and nerdy demeanour. Every facial twitch, hunch of the shoulders, or hand gesture looked deliberate and in-character, and some of MacCabe’s improvisation around what appeared to be set-problems or dropped props was simply superb. He absolutely made the character and made the show. Fantastic performance.
On then, to the customary pithy conclusion. The show isn’t going to leave you clutching your sides in agony as you chortle in uncontrollable mirth; but that’s not what it sets out to do. It’s definitely funny, but overall it’s a silly, light-hearted musical with great tunes, great singing, and great acting that will definitely leave you feeling happy you watched it. If you’re looking for something to cheer you up, don’t miss this.
Little Shop of Horrors is on at the Annex from the 5th – 8th February. Let us know your thoughts on the show in comments!