Reviewed: Little Shop of Horrors

Will Clarke leaves Hild Bede Theatre’s latest production beleafing completely in the flowery musical theatre on show…

Horrors Little Shop Review

As I was sitting down to watch Hild Bede Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors, a neighbour mentioned that she had seen the company’s previous rendition of the show, a number of years ago. When I asked what she’d thought of it, she replied simply that the production had of course been excellent, since it had been put on by HBT. This, then, is the bar Little Shop of Horrors is to be judged against, and by and large, it clears it with inches to spare.

Little Shop is the story of a love triangle so rudely interrupted by a carnivorous plant bent on world domination. The production on the whole is slick, professional and well-choreographed, and the definite ambition in the show certainly pays off. Fairly major scene changes are executed well, including a particularly wonderful moment when Seymour’s chair is wheeled off into the wings with the hapless florist still sitting on it as the cast meld into the next scene.

The cast were all musically strong and dripping with characterisation, but it was John Muething’s Seymour who stole the audience’s heart. Muething’s characterisation was a delight to watch, whether skittering about stage with a nervous energy, being pulled about like a ragdoll in ‘Mushnik and Son’ or earning a hearty laugh just by removing his glasses in ‘Suddenly Seymour’.

Also of particular note was Jason Hill, who took a part (a dental patient) that could easily have been dull and made it his own with an almost childishly flat voice reminiscent of ‘Dug’ from Up, coupled with a manic energy that had the audience in stitches.

The one disappointment of the night was the plant itself. Three separate puppets are used to portray this predatory perennial, and it was therefore a shame that the Plant wasn’t the character that it could have been once it grows up and begins speaking. Hannah Cope’s voice was excellent, walking the line between funny and frightening, and the puppeteering was just as impressive, but the two didn’t seem to belong to the same entity. The movements of the mouth bore little resemblance to the words being said or the intent behind them; the puppet flapped its mouth open and shut like Pacman at pretty much the same rate whatever it was supposed to be saying. It sadly undermined the sudden menace in the Plant’s voice during ‘Feed Me’ when the puppet remained definitely flapping at the ceiling rather than so much as glancing at Seymour.

The musical elements of the show were fantastic, however, with a cast of talented singers supported by an excellent band. Though occasionally words became smothered by the actor’s adopted accent, which was a pity given the play’s witty lyrics, this did not mar a succession of strong and impressive songs.

Quite apart from the three puppets that represent the Plant, a succession of impressive props graced the stage; a rusty ‘dentist’s’ drill wielded with manic glee by Orin (Freddie Herman) and a mask-and-gas-bottle that looks like a cross between scuba kit and something Flash Gordon might have worn being two of my favourites.

Hild Bede Theatre should be congratulated for sowing the seeds of brilliance that really spruced up the evening—I was laughing right up until it was time to leaf.