Looking for a blood-curdling good time this Halloween season in London? City Academy’s rendition of the cult classic musical show delivers a hilarious and downright absurd tale of a killer plant and a whole lot of dark humour. This rendition of “Little Shop of Horrors” is a hilarious, campy romp that will tickle your funny bone and keep you on the edge of your seat (even if there’s no blood in the actual show, besides some stains on clothes). If you’ve got a taste for the macabre melodies of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” or the cutthroat humour of “Sweeney Todd,” this show is right up your eerie alley.
A little story of a little shop
“Little Shop of Horrors” is a creepy, charming delight. The plot revolves around Seymour, a bumbling flower shop assistant, who stumbles upon a new species of plant, Audrey II. But here’s the twist – Audrey II craves human blood! What follows is a side-splitting spectacle of bloodthirsty antics, doomed dentist, and a love-struck Seymour trying to save the day.
The whole production is written in the style of 1950s B-movie horror films, complete with a rock ‘n’ roll and Motown musical score. It’s a genre that might be unfamiliar to some younger musical enthusiasts, but the cast effortlessly breathed life into it, taking us back in time with style.
The 3-piece band, directed by Carl Greenwood and stationed at the balcony of Bridewell Theatre, managed to deliver fantastic live versions of well-known pieces from this classic musical.
The cast of the show is large, based on the program I counted 20 people! I have to praise the work of the costume designer – some of the outfits followed their original movie versions, but some were an interesting creative challenge.
The multiple costume changes were as quick as a Venus flytrap’s snap, and the attention to detail was outstanding. But I really think that the pièce de résistance was Audrey’s striking pink coat, a showstopper indeed. And speaking of the set, Mushnik’s flower shop was beautifully designed and decorated, transitioning seamlessly from the first act’s modest shop to the second act’s bustling and prosperous version.
The trio of Crystal (Eden Reid), Ronnette (Mariana Alfaro) and Chiffon (Christina Olorode) serve as a vocal powerhouse of the production and provide a running commentary on the show, reminiscent of a Greek Chorus from ancient times.
The classic opening number (“Prologue”) got me right in the feels and opened the door to this quirky kingdom of sass and creepiness.
Audrey, portrayed with just the right amount of ditziness and vulnerability by Sarah Purssell, was a treat for the eyes and ears. Her stage presence reminded me of Ulla from “The Producers” – adorable and quirky, with a well-executed portrayal of self-doubt and low self-worth.
Her high-pitched voice meshed seamlessly with the songs. I could feel the pain in her eyes when facing intimidation from Orin, and couldn’t help but root for her happiness.
The role of Seymour, played by a personable young actor Buddy Jefferies, was absolutely charming. His solo number, “Grow For Me,” was a poignant ballad that he shared with a small, ailing potted plant (adorable!). His performance was brimming with charm and well-executed vocals.
The duet between Audrey and Seymour, “Suddenly Seymour,” presented a magical moment where the two brilliant voices seamlessly merged against the delicate and soulful backdrop provided by the band. It was a performance that could make even the coldest heart grow.
Jack Gregson’s performance as the dentist was downright sadistic in the best way. He masterfully blended creepy and humorous elements, bringing to life one of the most villainous characters in the show, and the audience was thoroughly entertained by his ridiculously funny demise. However, when Jack returned (for a moment) as the media representative in the second act, his tone and movements were quite similar – I’d love to see a bit of a different presence here.
In the role of Mushnik, cleverly gender-swapped for this production, Anita Hammerton-Reid brought a distinct focus on the character’s business-like pragmatism. Anita skillfully emphasized Mushnik’s brusque and offhanded nature. The gender switch didn’t have any impact on the main plot, but it was a refreshing touch that added a strong female character to the mix, and that’s always a welcome addition!
And finally, the much-awaited appearance of Audrey II (Peter Sims) herself/himself, dressed in green sequins, was worth every moment of anticipation. The smooth-talking, sex-appeal-dripping rendition of “Feed Me” was a real showstopper. Audrey II’s presence had that perfect blend of creepy, camp, and tragicomedy.
This monstrous plant was showcased in various forms, from a small, handheld moving potted plant to a colossal, multiple-actor-constructed Audrey II. The creativity in bringing this deadly plant to life was truly impressive (and included a number of actors playing as Audrey II’s arms, or rather “tentacles”, by the end – the plant took over the whole back of the stage!).
Staging-wise, the part which I was expecting more from was the handling of the deaths along the way. In this production, characters devoured by Audrey II simply vanished inside the plant, and I couldn’t help but crave some fake blood or plastic body parts flying around. We only got one, initial scene when Seymour feeds Audrey II with classic rubber hands and legs. A little extra gore would have been the cherry on top of this bloodthirsty sundae.
There are a few areas that could use improvement, particularly in the realm of lighting and technology. The spotlights were somewhat inconsistent, and mic control had its share of hiccups. However, it’s worth noting that I attended the opening night performance, and these minor issues can likely be ironed out in the upcoming shows. Despite occasional microphone mishaps, the actors soldiered on with confidence.
I received a ticket to see the show in exchange for an honest review
Little Shop of Horrors
by City Academy – Studio Company
Bridewell Theatre, 16-21 October 2023
Director: Victoria Gimby
Musical Director: Carl Greenwood
Choreographer: Ughetta Pratesi