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Little Shop of Horrors review (New Wolsey Theatre)

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Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors is back on UK stages this Spring, in the form of a national tour. In a new co-production, the rock and roll musical about Seymour and his flesh-eating plant is visiting four venues from March to June, starting with the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich and continuing to the Octagon Theatre Bolton, Theatre by the Lake Keswick and Hull Truck Theatre. This weekend I had the opportunity to review the cult classic, marking my first visit to the Suffolk venue. The intimate 400-seat theatrical space comes alive with the incredible 1950-60s sounds that the musical is known for, in a lively interpretation of the source material spearheaded by director Lotte Wakeham.

Cast of Little Shop of Horrors © Pamela Raith

About the show

For those unfamiliar with the show, Little Shop of Horrors is set in Downtown New York, specifically the fictional and impoverished neighbourhood of Skid Row. It focuses on the staff of the struggling Mr. Mushnik’s Flower Shop, specifically the shop’s owner and the assistants Seymour and Audrey. A mysterious plant appears at the shop overnight, which Seymour names Audrey II after his coworker. It attracts the attention of onlookers and business starts to look up. The venus flytrap-inspired species requires Seymour’s undivided attention and craves human blood. Inspired by science fiction ‘B’ films, the musical follows the growth of Audrey II and the resulting impact on the shop assistants’ lives.

Andrew Whitehead, Anton Stephans, Laura Jane Matthewson and Oliver Mawdsley in Little Shop of Horrors © Pamela Raith
© Pamela Raith

Inviting set design, staging and lighting

Utilising an open set, the audience is invited into Mr. Mushnik’s Flower Shop in the rundown Skid Row for just over two hours of theatre. The iconic location has been recreated by designer TK Hay across two levels, with the shop sitting at the same height as the lower stalls and the live band performing on a raised platform. The set mimics the apartment blocks of New York and their exterior fire escapes, with staircases providing the opportunity for the characters to transcend height throughout the story.

Nic Farman’s lighting dresses the set in vivid hues, specifically glowing reds and greens in the gruesome moments with Audrey II. I really enjoyed the bold lighting choices, particularly in the comedic moments with the plant, but it is the beautiful pink tones in ‘Suddenly, Seymour’ that had the biggest impact on me. It adds charm to the romantic song and scene, providing a moment of respite and calm against the show’s incomparable themes. 

Janna May, Chardai Shaw and Zweyla Mitchell dos Santos in Little Shop of Horrors © Pamela Raith
© Pamela Raith

Retro and colourful costume designs

TK Hay’s costume design is monumental in the recreation of the iconic Skid Row characters and the 1950-60s time period. This can be seen in Seymour, Audrey and Mr Mushnik’s workwear, as well as the colourful retro-inspired outfits worn by Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon. The commentator figures have related ensembles, including unique vintage headbands which provide both personality and visual cohesion.

Puppetry and the presentation of Audrey II

Puppet Director and Maker Michael Fowkes has created some scene-stealing puppets for the production, with the early Audrey II and full scale version adding humour and gore to the set. Whilst on the whole the Audrey puppets spark imagination, the medium sized interim puppet lacks the convincing visuals of the earlier and later models. Fortunately this version of the character is seen for the least amount of time, providing plenty of room for the sprawling final edition which really transforms the flower shop.

Audrey II puppet in Little Shop of Horrors at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Music and sound

A cast of actor-musicians and instrumentalists have brought their own spin to Alan Menken’s energetic score, under the direction of musical director Gabrielle Ball. On the whole the music and sound is incredibly strong, with the band and vocallists working together to recreate the spirit of ‘Skid Row (Downtown)’, the Prologue (‘Little Shop of Horrors’) and other tracks. It was slightly let down by ‘Finale Ultimo (Don’t Feed the Plants)’ though, with the band overpowering the singers. I totally understand that this is where the performers can let go, but it lacked the finesse of the rest of the music.

Cast performances

The fantastic company is brilliantly led by Oliver Mawdsley as Seymour and Laura Jane Matthewson as Audrey, who add heart and humour to this zany love story. The standout performer is Matthew Ganley in the role of Orin the dentist and others, bringing so much energy and charisma to each of his characters.

Laura Jane Matthewson and Oliver Mawdsley in Little Shop of Horrors © Pamela Raith
© Pamela Raith

Whilst I thought Zweyla Mitchell dos Santos, Chardai Shaw and Janna May brought powerful vocals and stage presence to the characters of Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon, it felt as if their role as commentary figures had been underdeveloped within the wider production. A little more thought to their positioning on stage, alongside any entries and exits would make the characters feel more in tune with the rest of the piece.

Ticket for Little Shop of Horrors at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

A rock and roll triumph

This new production of Little Shop of Horrors is a hugely entertaining example of musical theatre, featuring Menken’s renowned rock and roll score and a cast of talented actor-musicians. It features a very colourful interpretation of the dreary Skid Row, thanks to maximalist lighting effects and refreshing costumes, but I totally support these striking design choices. The show is playing at the New Wolsey Theatre until Saturday 23rd March, before continuing its tour across the UK.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for For Little Shop of Horrors was gifted in exchange for an unbiased review.



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