As I watched the cast of Little Shop of Horrors perform at a tech rehearsal, I was nostalgic for a time I’ve never lived in. With the punchy girl-group dancing, the streetscape filled with optimism, the harmonising, and the young lovers, it was just plain fun.
After seeing a mix of songs I was struck by how varied the music was, featuring funk, bit-pieces in more traditional styles, classic Broadway vibes, and soul. Special mention has to go to the exquisitely bewitching tones of the cosmic, man-eating plant herself, Audrey II (played by Jess Bollands). Furthermore, the chemistry between Seymour (James Tibbles) and Audrey (Amelia Gabriel) is adorably sweet; both are shaping up to have the charisma and talent needed to steer viewers through the downright odd world of Little Shop.
With the punchy girl-group dancing, the streetscape filled with optimism, the harmonising, and the young lovers, it was just plain fun.
And yet beneath the infectiously catchy score, there is a side to Little Shop that is grittier and darker than first appears. Jonny Wiles, the director, passionately informs me that the capacity for so much versatility and depth in the music is because of the genius of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman. In talking to Wiles I have to commend the enthusiasm and thoughtfulness of his directorial approach. There was a nuance and consideration in his answers that many would find unexpected in a show with such a kitsch and camp reputation. When probed about how to represent an abusive relationship in an upbeat musical without trivialising, Wiles’ considered answer about making the audience question their complicity was both reassuring and provoking. Balancing Little Shop’s often overwhelming mix of optimism and jollity against its perversity and darker themes is the major challenge for any production, however, it is also what makes the show so unique, and I have confidence in Wiles’ team. From the joyous, quirky, sexy numbers that I saw, they seem to be striking that balance.
The proof will be in the performance, and I do have some reservations about whether such a small cast size will be able to deliver the spectacle and dazzle required to fill the Oxford Playhouse stage. However, the creatives, cast, and crew are approaching this show with infectious enthusiasm and gumption – and I can’t help but wish them all the best as I await the full show.
Little Shop of Horrors will be performed at the Oxford Playhouse, 3 – 6 May, (Trinity Term, 2nd week).
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