SATURDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2023
Little Shop Of Horrors
Production Photo: Teresa Lyle
A vivacious, complex and above all human take on a true classic, the Playhouse Music Theatre Company's production of Little Shop Of Horrors finds a unique and inspired voice for a timeless work through a combination of homage, dedication and expression. It's a highly enjoyable blend of cinematic references, energetic choreography, committed performance and genuine substance, co-directors Conor O'Kane and David Fairs ensuring that what lies beneath is as thoughtful as the entertainment level is high.
In a sense, the show is deliciously Hitchcockian, and not just because of the musical nods to Psycho and the visual nods to Vertigo. For behind the thrilling facades of Sir Alfred Hitchcock's finest work lay intelligence to complement the suspense, an exploration of the complications and motivations of the human condition. This production certainly has that – you could say it's a Feeding Frenzy.
The story of how the promise of opulence from the most unlikely and unexpectedly dangerous of botanical sources fills a little town and a little shop with horrors – hence the title? – is presented in the middle of Derry-Londonderry's Playhouse Theatre with the audience viewing the action, or otherwise, from three sides of the raised stage. Given the nature of the main characters, Seymour (Mark McLaughlin) and Audrey (Naoimh Morgan), it's fitting that the show is structured like this – as a pair of employees in a florist's shop who project contentment with their lot to customers while clearly longing for something better, they are the very essence of people looking to the horizon, placing their dreams of a happier life with one another on a pedestal. Musical numbers such as "Skid Row", "Grow For Me" and especially a very poignantly performed "Somewhere That's Green" are primarily typical of this state of mind and being, growth reduced to idealised hopes and words instead of the initiative that could be taken with a little push in a certain direction, which may feel right but may definitely not be right.
That "little push" is indeed little - to begin with. It's a "strange and interesting" plant who we find has, for want of better words, a rather bloody appetite. Named Audrey II - by Seymour, after the object of his affection – the plant is a source of money, fame and unhealthy investment for both Seymour and his boss, Mr Mushnik (Jonny Everett). Unhealthy in that Mushnik only appears to have his shop, and Seymour is driven by his feelings for Audrey, making Audrey II a substitute for someone who only exists to fulfil capitalist dependence for Mushnik and emotional dependence for Seymour. To be functional. To listen, and not talk - until it does, with the booming voice and personality of Swingtime Starlet Orla Mullan, featuring snaky looking hair and Statue Of Liberty-esque hands. And that's no coincidence - within the promise of liberty offered by her mere existence, this Audrey II brings with it venomous consequences which will drive Seymour, and other characters, down a slippery slope of morality.
Paying attention to little details like this makes this Little Shop Of Horrors remarkable in many ways. Of particular note are Mark McLaughlin's, and Naoimh Morgan's, marvellous conveying of empathy and understanding in tandem with the dark comedy and sticky ethics that run rampant throughout the play, ensuring that the emotive pain from Seymour's pre-Audrey II descent into apathy and both the emotive and physical pain in Audrey's toxic relationship with an unhinged, abusive dentist (Jonny Everett, again), ring as strong and true as the ultimate delight of "Suddenly Seymour" and the unsettling humour in "Dentist". The delicately balanced tone of the play brings out the themes of classism, self-protection and the exploitation of single-minded desperation for success on all sides, while never forgetting that the primary goal is to give the audience a good time – which is certainly had by all.
Little Shop Of Horrors runs at Derry-Londonderry's Playhouse Theatre until Sunday October 22. For more information, click here.