Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, London – until 22 September 2018
Meanness and greenness have often gone hand in hand at Regent’s Park – £3.50 for a tiny ice cream cone, really? – but never more so than in Maria Aberg’s confident production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Open Air Theatre.
Like The Rocky Horror Show (1973), Little Shop (1982) owes its origins to the schlock B movies of the 1940s and a score that ranges from doo-wop to the early days of Motown, but glossily crafted by Alan Menken, and with the bite his work promised before Disney seduced him to write Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.
Plot? If you must: on Skid Row, a flower shop assistant breeds a carnivorous plant which requires human blood to thrive. When droplets aren’t enough, a sadistic and domestically violent dentist and a harmless Jewish florist are sacrificed. Making that into joyful family entertainment takes skill, and there’s plenty available here.
First blood to Aberg is the casting – Jemima Rooper builds on her impressive straight acting career with a genuinely touching performance as Audrey which far outshines Sheridan Smith in the Menier production, and which includes the most naturalistic and sensitive delivery of ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ I’ve ever heard. Marc Antolin – whose work I’ve followed since he was in the chorus of Phil Willmott’s Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi at the Union – is also entirely realistic as the nebbish Seymour, with excellent vocals and sadly not enough opportunities for the full-on hoofing which is his forte.
Second strike is to enhance the usual animatronic version of the hungry plant ‘Audrey II’ with a larger-than-life human version in the impressive form of American drag artiste Vicky Vox. The whole production has a slight gloss of Ru Paul’s Drag Race in the colour and energy of the costumes, but despite not being directly from that stable, Vox is outstanding – virtually taking over the show from the interval onwards and vamping the audience with pure vegetable magnetism.
Negatives? The trio of young women who punctuate the scenes with rock harmonies have great voices which are sometimes over amplified and mangled by the sound system and their hip thrusting sisterly ‘sassitude’ is all a bit predictable. Matt Willis from Busted (is he ever just ‘Matt Willis’?) is having fun as the sadistic dentist Orin, and a couple of other quick-change cameos, but he’s not really in sync with the tone of the rest of the piece. The set consisting mainly of skyscrapers in shopping trolleys seems a bit obstructive, and limits any opportunity for the choreography to dazzle.
Other than that, it’s a blast …
until September 22