Little Shop of Horrors, Salisbury Playhouse

Ben Stott in Little Shop of Horrors at Salisbury Playhouse - credit Richard DavenportSALISBURY Playhouse’s latest big show is a co-production with Colchester Mercury Theatre of Howard Ashman’s and Alan Menken’s ever popular musical Little Shop of Horrors.

As the author himself writes, the show satirizes many things: science fiction, B movies, musical comedy and even the Faust legend.  There is, therefore, a real temptation to play it for camp and low comedy – fortunately something that director Gareth Machin has carefully avoided.  Instead, both he and designer James Button have insisted that we should really care for the characters we meet.   The extraordinarily informative programme tells us just how seriously this aspect of the production was taken by those involved and the result is brilliantly successful.

Heading the cast, Ben Stott as Seymour was delightfully insecure and weedy; naïve perhaps but certainly not silly.  He also had a great voice as well as being a pretty impressive dancer.  He was perfectly matched by Frances McNamee as Audrey who conveyed just the right degree of sweetness and vulnerability that made us all feel that she needed taking under our wings.  She too was a terrific singer and their poignant Act II love duet Suddenly Seymour (which ended with a long-awaited and passionate kiss) together with the preceding telephone song, Call Back in the Morning, were among the highlights of the show. That kiss, in fact, promoted yells of approval from an audience that, I suspect, is not normally driven to such shows of approbation!

As Mr. Mushnik, the proprietor of the florists shop, Simeon Truby pitched his performance perfectly.  Initially a failure as a businessman, his fortunes take a dramatic turn for the better when Audrey II, that strange and interesting plant, is placed in the shop window.  As one who probably couldn’t even remember when he had last smiled, his decision, made in song and dance of course, to adopt Seymour as his son was a real joy.

Frances McNamee in Little Shop of Horrors at Salisbury Playhouse - credit Richard DavenportJez Unwin gave a charismatic performance as Orin, the egotistical and sadistic dentist.  He had a fine sense of comic timing and his manic laughter when breathing in the nitrous oxide was both silly and chilling.  Although, as Orin, he met his demise at the end of Act I, he returned in Act II in a series of short, well contrasted cameo roles.  These he played with considerable panache.  I particularly enjoyed his performance as Mrs. Luce the magazine editor – and he looked great in high heels.

The trio of Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Karis Jack and Carole Stennett, were another absolute delight.  Whether participating in the action or commenting on what was happening they kept our attention throughout.  Their rich close harmony singing, slick dance routines (as choreographer, Nick Winston has done an exceptional job on the whole show) and brilliant facial expressions were a constant pleasure.

The star of the show, however, has to be Audrey II.  Leon Craig’s rich speaking and singing voice and Andrew London’s remarkable skills as a puppeteer were a winning combination and gave Audrey II a real personality. We actually see four different incarnations of this hungry horticultural horror, as the programme so graphically informs us, as Audrey II grows from a pot plant to a man-eating monster.  The disappearance of various members of the cast into its cavernous mouth was very cleverly done, while a slight tilt of the head or discreet movement of the plant’s lips seemed to be all that was needed to convey a whole range of expression.  Clever stuff.

Visually the entire show was a treat.  The colourful costumes were perfect while the splendid litter strewn set, coupled with the occasional wisp of smoke and some imaginative lighting created just the right atmosphere.   Finally, mention must be made of the great band under the direction of Richard Reeday whose tight ensemble playing did so much to keep the show moving.

Despite the death and dismemberment, Salisbury’s Little Shop of Horrors is a feel-good show with something for everybody; the six or seven year old sitting a couple of seats away from us certainly loved it every bit as much as we did.

The production runs until Saturday 16th May after which it transfers to the Mercury Theatre, Colchester.  For more information telephone 01722 320333 or visit the website,


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