Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has absolutely excelled itself with this year’s programme. It’s been something of a celebration of the venue’s ability to become a site-specific performance space, beginning in Neverland for Peter Pan, before heading to The Turn of the Screw’s country house (Bly) and the Forest of Arden in this year’s Shakespeare, As You Like It, as well as playing host to Dinosaur World Live. The season culminates with its musical offering: a brand new production of the classic Little Shop of Horrors.
Maria Aberg directs the Howard Ashman & Alan Menken show – based on the original film from the 50s – that sees flower shop assistant Seymour inadvertently nurture the man-eating plant, Audrey II, named after the colleague he has a crush on. When they put it on display in Mushnik’s shop, on Skid Row, business suddenly goes from bust to boom and Seymour becomes something of a local celebrity. But Audrey sticks with her sadistic & misogynistic boyfriend Orin, and Audrey II is getting ever hungrier & more vocal… Will the bloodythirsty plant give Seymour everything he’s ever dreamed of – or are t here more sinister motives to its actions?
What’s immediately striking as you enter the auditorium is Tom Scutt’s set design. Harking back to the original source material, we’re presented with a grey & drab Skid Row (surrounded by the park’s natural greenery), replete with a broken drive-in sign on the upper level. The plants in Mushnik’s shop are all noticeably artificial, and the area is crawling with undesirables. This bleakness & artificiality is key, as it makes the exotic Audrey II (and the new life the plant offers) all the more enticing; the desire to escape is made all the more believable because of it. And the fact that the audience is surrounded by plant life does make the subversive ending just that little bit creepier!
This production is notable in its casting of drag queen Vicky Vox as Audrey II. Rather than sticking with the regular idea of increasingly bigger plant puppets, this concept opens up so many more options – it allows Audrey II to make her presence felt much more keenly, whether she’s roaming the auditorium or sat up on the ledge trying to convince Seymour to feed her. Vicky Vox seems to relish the opportunity, ramping up Audrey II’s filthy humour and bringing a glam & charismatic presence to the role.
Christina Modestou, Seyi Omooba and Renée Lamb are particularly impressive as Ronnette, Crystal & Chiffon, the 60s style girl group narrators who kick the show off in fine style with the title song. Matt Willis is energetic & aggressive as Orin, with a definite crazy glint in his eye – so much so that I’m not sure anyone would believe what his day job was if he told them… Forbes Masson gives an enjoyable performance as the down-on-his-luck Mushnik (his duet Mushnik and Son is one of the highlights of the night), and Jemima Rooper is a real delight as Audrey.
Aside from the scene-stealing Vicky Vox, however, it’s Marc Antolin who proves to be the star of the show as the awkward Seymour. Instead of his character appearing to get greedier as fame comes his way, it’s clear that his constant reason for trying to make a better life for himself is his affection for Audrey; in so doing, Seymour remains relatable – and his actions slightly more justifiable. Antolin was clearly born to play this part, with comedy in abundance and serious vocal prowess.
My verdict? A revival of a cult favourite that’s not afraid to go big & bold, and (despite the B-movie sci fi ending) it’s a definite feel-good hit – casting Vicky Vox as Audrey II was absolutely inspired!
Little Shop of Horrors runs at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 22 September 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.