The gloriously grotesque cult-musical opens at New Wimbledon
Theatre, complete with the necessarily capitalised X-Factor contestant RHYDIAN
starring as The Dentist. Despite the glitzy ‘big name’, this tour production still
feels inspired by its B-movie origins. Calling it budget-Disney might sound
harsh, but the cartoonish props, small cast and frantic storytelling all make
it a vibrant, endearing performance from the book and lyricist duo Ashman and
Menken that later created
Inevitably their budding love story is the beating, bloody heart of the musical. The time they spend together, singing with, or about one another is the most rewarding
In theory, The Dentist is a brash but difficult touring part ideal for a celebrity name such as Rhydian, who is splashed across the programme in an attempt to bring in the masses, unfortunately the tone he strikes is slightly off. He lacks the teeth of the man-eating plant which he plays opposite. The behind-the-scenes voice (Neil Nicholas) and puppetry of (Josh Wilmott) as the giant geranium capture the imagination with their bluesy, rockstar of a vegetable; the brilliant stylisation and menace give it genuine personality. The Simon Cowell protégée has too much personality in the frankly horrible character of Orin Scrivello DDS, who sings of torturing animals as a child and how that leads him to a sadistic life with drill and forceps. Imagine Peter Dicksen announcing his name on the ITV show and that’s the SIZE of his performance. It’s acting a part, as an intended pantomime villain, but it is just too much. It’s just nasty. Until his appearance late in proceedings as a series of funnier, likeable larger-than-life cameo characters there isn’t much to engage with.
However, the thrust of the story is Seymour (Sam Lupton) and Audrey (Stephanie Clift)’s struggle in Skid Row, New York as apprentices at Mushnik's, the worst florist in town. Inevitably their budding love story is the beating, bloody heart of the musical. The time they spend together, singing with, or about one another is the most rewarding. Lupton provides bags of energy during his zero-to-hero transformation after finding Audrey II, the plant that makes him famous. Clift has a beautiful voice and “Somewhere That’s Green” leans into the light as a fragile moment of calm in a maelstrom of fun and noise.
Although not specifically advertised as a family show, the silliness of a man-eating plant and the lurid comic-book stylisation of the advertising suggest it should be. Members of the audience certainly brought children along. This is worrying when “no shit Sherlock” and “bastard” crop up in the dialogue, these were infrequent but jarring, with lines such as “I like my dental drills dull and rusty and my root canals, long, slow and hard” buried in some of the songs. Perhaps worse is the narrative of domestic abuse between Audrey and the Orin. Handcuffs, bruises and broken arms are all suppose to illicit laughter and perhaps were par-for-the-course in 1960, but they left a hollow feeling inside an otherwise brimming, ludicrously entertaining show.