Flower arranging becomes a life and death hobby in Little Shop of Horrors, a popular-on-the-circuit science fiction cult musical classic. Little Shop tells the story of a goofy flower shop assistant, Seymour, who makes his name by “discovering” a new species of plant. Seymour’s find, however, turns out to be a space monster that feeds on human blood. Across the evening, we see ‘Audrey 2’ grow and flourish on a diet of cruel dentists, unsuspecting shopkeepers and, ultimately, Seymour’s crush, the beautiful, blonde but love-unlucky Audrey 1. The green leafed monster finally devours Seymour himself, before preparing (through offshoots) to go nationwide in its bloodthirsty feeding frenzy.
A promising performance delivered earnestly by a capable cast
The show presents plenty of technical challenges, both in performance and in giving shape to Audrey 2. It is an interesting choice for Nardone’s Academy, a performing arts school from Lochgelly, Fife, which offers classes in acting, singing and dance for 295 would-be performers aged four to adult. One can understand that logistics make it an attractive choice to present just eight actors (who had auditioned internally) but this choice presumably left nearly 300 others at the school without the opportunity to perform in Edinburgh – I hope Nardone’s next Fringe project will be on a bigger scale. The choice of venue presents challenges too, with a 150 minute show in a very small and very hot space. I am lucky enough to have a fan directed at me but other audience members are clearly wilting in the heat. The fact that an electrical cupboard opposite is ironically called ‘Plant Room’ is scant consolation. Longer shows like this may be better suited to larger, airier venue spaces, with bigger audiences stemming from larger casts.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this musical is how to present Audrey 2, the sanguineous-snacking plant. In this production, an ever larger series of colourful plants are presented, which look tremendous and are very effectively manoeuvred by Liam Nardone. The plant is vocalised by an actor in black with a green bow tie and this is less convincing for me as a strategy, although a popular route for productions – anthropomorphising a space-monstrous green plant seems to me to take something away from the sci-fi horror of it all. The deaths along the way are also tricky to handle, with the plant supposedly gobbling up its human prey. In this production, characters once eaten simply walk away – there is surely scope for something more inventive. These are not easy challenges in any production of Little Shop, however, and the choices made do deliver clear, clean and sharp musical storytelling, with effective use of the space and lighting that highlights action and emotion.
The cast acquit themselves well although they seem to struggle for confidence at times, particularly when performing alone. There is no reason for this as they are clearly eight accomplished performers. Keava Doig, Kelsie McCall and Neve Muir combine together very well in presenting the chorus, a trio seemingly with nothing better to do than hang about outside flower shops and comment on what’s going on therein. Dylan Weather presents a solid, squinting Mr Mushnik and Richie MacGillivray strides confidently about as Audrey 2 in human form. MacKenzie Harley is a likeable Seymour with a fine singing voice while Brooke MacDonald’s rendition of Suddenly Seymour was elegant and pitch perfect, a real musical highlight. Best in show, however, and probably in the form of a black rosette, must go to Cole McLaren who plays the Dentist and other parts with great showmanship and flair. The future must surely call on him to give us his Sweeney Todd, given his prowess here at presenting the psychopath. McLaren plays a range of parts and plays them convincingly, although further variations of his costume would help us understand the variety of his characters better. This seems to be a missed opportunity to give others from the school a chance to perform the range of minor characters.
This was a good, clean version of the show and I particularly enjoy Mr Mushnik reading the Fife Free Press in his American florist. Nardone’s is clearly helping its young actors to bloom and their performance of Little Shop is a promising performance delivered earnestly by a capable cast.