Little Shop of Horrors devours expectations

LIFE IS HELL for the collective of downtrodden, sassy no-hopers starring in director Dean Bryant’s feisty rendition of Little Shop of Horrors. But life was good for the reviewer, because this show is viciously entertaining. If you’re a theatre fan, this absolute gem of a performance promises to stretch a smile across your face for the duration; and this is coming from someone who doesn’t even like musicals…

Based on Roger Corman’s low budget 1960 Black Comedy film and produced by Lisa Campbell, this Faustian version of Little Shop of Horrors is a classic melodrama, which does a tremendous job of evoking all the laughter, emotion and awe that an audience could wish for.

Opening on April 22nd to a full house that was emanating a palpable buzz at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Little Shop of Horrors utterly ‘consumed’ everyone in attendance.

Ominous flashes of lighting and the penetrating boom of thunder rippling through the space, foreshadows the narratives inevitably sinister outcome, with a striking strobe light and deafening sound effects that could have fooled you into believing you had stumbled into the basement at Electric Circus.

The story unfolds at the entirely monochrome and hopelessly rundown ‘Mushnik’s Florist’ shopfront, against a backdrop of gothic chic, in a claustrophobic world of collapsing telephone poles, trash cans and ever-grey skies depicting a god-forsaken street on skid row, suggested to be in pre-World War II, New York.

Through Act I, a mysterious plant from outer space, with the hilarious voice of an African-American gospel preacher, provides the only hint of colour on the set, acting as the single dash of intrigue and hope in the lives of this band of outcasts, exploited by their boss, Mr Mushnik (Tyler Coppin).

Starting out small, the plant becomes the living embodiment of a Faustian bargain, with stunningly ingenuitive puppet design from ERTH Visual and Physical Inc., allowing it to gradually explode in size as it gulps down human blood, to the point where it encompasses most of the set by the end of Act II. Dancing along on its own accord as the music plays, aggressively screaming “FEED ME!” and gleefully swallowing characters whole, the plant balances having the audience awe while subtly terrified, standing out as a star in its own right.

Not to be out done by the plays violent flora, leading lady, Esther Hannaford utilises her sassily sonic voice and permeable vulnerability in presenting an adorable, exaggeratedly feminine Audrey.

Hannaford wins the audience’s devotion by plying her performance with au fait timing, superb attention to detail and a cheeky sensuous undertone.

Protagonist, Seymour (Brent Hill) complements her perfectly as the earnest, bumbling average Joe, presenting himself as the loveable antithesis of sex appeal. Hill calls the audience’s morals into question as we’re placed in his shoes while he makes his deal with the devil and we find ourselves somewhere on the spectrum between wanting to cuddle him and slapping him in the face.

Rounding out the remainder of the cast are a sociopathic dentist addicted to his own supply of nitros oxide (Scott Johnson) and a chorus of three street-walking divas with serious lung capacity (Angelique Cassimatis, Josie Lane, Chloe Zuel), all of whom rinse every drop of unique flavour out of their roles.

Delightfully crisp choreography from Andrew Hallsworth gave the cast all the tools necessary to unequivocally rock every musical number, titillating the audience’s appetite with each song, yet leaving everybody salivating for more.

Superbly suitable outfitting by Costume Designer, Tim Chappell, dressed the cast in awful 1950’s style garb, matching the characters clothes to their vividly juxtaposed personalities and syncing with the vision of Set Designer, Owen Phillips, whose environment transitioned in time with the ensemble, collectively blending everything into one.

Boasting a delectable hot-potch of allusion to everything from Charlie Chaplin to Frankenstein, on the surface this production offers plenty of tongue in cheek fun. However there is an important depth here as well, exploring universal and contemporary issues such as the desperation of poverty and horrors of domestic violence. Little Shop of Horrors will leave you questioning your ethics and the state of the greedy world we live in.

There’s a good reason opening night closed to a standing ovation and when has an Adelaide audience ever been wrong?


Gallery images: Jeff Busby

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