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East of England
posted/updated: 12 Jun 2015 -
Little Shop of Horrors
Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Music by Alan Menken. Based on the film by Roger Corman, screenplay by Charles Griffith.
society/company: Blackmore Players (directory)
performance date: 11 Jun 2015
venue: Blackmore Village Hall, CM4 0QR
reviewer/s: Michael Gray (Sardines review)

Blackmore on splendid Fifties form for this classic tale of the alien avocado invader.

It's a cult show, and comes encrusted with traditions worthy of D'Oyly Carte. The Players pay homage to most of them, but manage to keep the show fresh and immediate.

The audience is immersed in the action from the off, with hobos and hookers and all the noisy denizens of Skid Row roaming the auditorium in search of a trick to turn or a bench for the night. And we are all immersed in the show, too, with a traverse acting area [impressively paved]. Especially effective for the nightmare dentist sequence, with Rob Lewis-Jones's wonderfully terrifying semi-sadist entering through green smoke and terrorising poor Seymour right under our noses. It's a risky strategy, particularly for a musical with everyone miked up, but the only down-side was an audible buzz under some dialogue.

This is a rural community group, with strictly local talent, performing in a multi-purpose village hall [with one of the most keenly priced theatre bars in the land]. But no compromises are made, in a great example of what can be achieved with inspiring, clear-sighted direction [Bill Edwards in the hot seat for this one, with choreography by Denise Jackson]. There's no pit, of course, but a great little band in the corner, with MD Shirley Parrott at the keyboard.

The cast is impressively strong. Craig Stevens makes a nicely nervous Seymour, with his geeky specs and baseball cap – superb singer, too. His Audrey is Lisa Rawlings; vocally assured, carefully characterized. It's a pity she gives most of her big number sitting on the stoop, invisible to almost all the audience.

Audrey II – the star of the show, really, with its multicoloured warts and gore-stained maw – is excellently voiced by Bill Edwards himself, with the expressive flora [uncredited] manipulated by John Hughes.

Mushnik, gravel-toned and fundamentally jolly despite everything, is engagingly played by Simon Haskell, who also provides the portentous voice in the prologue.

The three backing singers – Ronnette, Chiffon, Crystal – are authentically sung by Gail Hughes, Sandra Trott and Amy Pudney, with stunning show dresses for the finale; perhaps they could have been a little more engaged with the plot emotionally, though.

Memorable cameos from many others, including Charley Magee's Bernstein and Martin Herford's Skip Snip, and a big bold chorus of all ages and abilities.

Lots of detail to admire, even to those of us who are very familiar with the show. A nice new clock after renovation, with Mushnik's favourite fedora still hanging underneath. A nice brickwork scene curtain; I longed to see an actor walk across with it – much more dramatic. And a brilliantly helpful glossary in the programme, with useful reminders of Vitalis, Lucille Ball and Hedy Lamarr ...

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