Photo credit: Matt Martin
Sell A Door Theatre Company has been doing stellar things within the UK in recent years, going from strength to strength with their touring productions that often rival West End shows in talent and production values. I've been a big fan ever since I saw Spring Awakening back in 2011 and they've gone on to produce shows such as Avenue Q, American Idiot and Hand to God. Their latest big musical venture is cult classic Little Shop of Horrors, which opened at New Wimbledon Theatre this week.
Seymour is a clerk in a flower shop on Skid Row with a particular fondness for his co-worker Audrey and unusual plants. When the shop is on the verge of closing down because of poor sales, Seymour shows his boss a peculiar flytrap he'd been nurturing. Even though the plant is on the verge of dying, they decide to put it on display and it is an instant customer magnet. The shop is saved and when Seymour discovers what makes this strange plant thrive, it grows to become an overnight sensation.
With the plant, Audrey II, propelling Seymour into the spotlight, he does not only gain the long-overdue recognition from his boss, but he also inches closer to showing the original Audrey how he truly feels about her. The only thing standing in the way of Seymour is Audrey's abusive boyfriend. Until Audrey II comes up with a perfect, though bloody, solution to Seymour's problem...
While most people will know Little Shop of Horrors as a 80s classic starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene as Seymour and Audrey, the story actually dates back to the 1960s and its inception was as a low budget B-movie. This explains the crazy creature at the heart of the story and the campness of so many of the scenes, but it wasn't until the cult story was infused by the catchy tunes of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (who went onto to work together on Disney's Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast) that it gained a wider recognition.
Little Shop of Horrors might be known for being over the top and having low production values, but the new Sell A Door production is very well put together and a slick version of the creature classic. The story is still absurd, of course, but there is a lot of heart in the show thanks to the sweetly naive story of Seymour and Audrey, portrayed wonderfully by Sam Lupton and Stephanie Clift respectively. I didn't expect them to come close to the performances I love in the 80s film but they completely smashed it.
I'd already had the joy to see Sam in another Sell A Door show, Avenue Q, and seeing him transform from the introvert Seymour at the start of this show to a more sinister version was a delight. Stephanie Clift too was wonderful as Audrey, with a soft, squeaky singing voice to start with but a powerful belt that rang through the theatre and was particularly spine-tingling during beautiful duet Suddenly Seymour. This has always been my favourite song in the show and they really did it justice.
One thing that has become an unfortunate trend with UK tour is star casting. I don't have a problem with this when someone is the right choice for a role (for instance Shayne Ward and Justin Lee Collins were spot on during the West End run of Rock of Ages) but sometimes it is merely a cheap vehicle to sell tickets and never more so than with Little Shop of Horrors.
The only face and name on the posters and programme is Rhydian (a former X-Factor contestant) yet the character heavily advertised is only in a handful of scenes. It's misleading and unfair to the two leads of the show. Furthermore, the actor milked his scenes as the dentist to their fullest, making them cringe-worthy as he clung to the spotlight. His voice was good and his contribution in the second act was entertaining but I couldn't get passed his performance in the first half. Of course this could've been a directing choice and not one by the actor, but it reinforces the unnecessary focus on celebrities tin UK tours and that is a shame.
Misleading advertising aside, this production of Little Shop of Horrors is pretty perfect. It has elevated the cult classic to a show worthy of a West End stage with a stunning set design and (mostly) spot-on casting. Seymour and Audrey are hugely flawed, yet the delightful renditions of the characters by Sam and Stephanie make it impossible not to fall in love with them. Special mention must also go to Neil Nicholas who gives a convincing performance of Audrey II with his impressive vocals alone.
Who knew a creature feature could be so sweet? With catchy tunes and likeable leads Little Shop of Horrors turn the absurd monster story into a whole heap of tongue-in-cheek fun.