Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s musical cult classic Little Shop of Horrors has come to a fresh Brisbane audience at the QPAC Playhouse. The production’s short two week season comes to its audience as a hasty and urgent warning about the iconic blood-thirsty plant that engulfs and swallows up a small-time florist shop and all who enter it. With camp performances, Sci-fi spoofs and Rock n Roll music, this classic musical bursts onto the stage as loud and proud as the gigantic puppet that quickly becomes the infamous spectacle of the show.
Down on Skid Row we are invited into Mr. Mushnik’s delapidated flower shop where a misunderstood orphan Seymour has acquired an unidentifiable and foreboding plant from a Chinese store during a solar eclipse. Audrey II. With Mushnik’s store facing bankruptcy, Audrey and Seymour put the plant forward, Audrey II, forward as a way to save the business. Unfortunately, Seymour soon learns that Audrey II thrives on human blood, and eventually also that it is a living, speaking, singing carnivore that wants to take over the planet, devouring anyone who gets in its way.
With a strong direction from Dean Bryant and outstanding performances from the ensemble, the production bursts into the QPAC theatre with high energy and non-stop dedication to the choreography, musical numbers, character relationships, and prop manipulation throughout. With the shop itself sitting lopsided and humbly in an otherwise sparse space, the actors’ performances are pushed to the forefront quite literally, with the entirety of the show’s action taking place either within the shop itself, or in front on the blank strip of space at the base of the stage. With all of the simplicity considered, Bryant ensures that the space never truly feels empty. There is a mesmerising distant city skyline created through shadow and lighting at the deepest dimensions of the stage, not to mention countless creative uses for a curtain across the shop’s front; most memorably video projections and shadow puppetry. While the show utilises a relatively small set, it activates the Playhouse stage with gusto.
The cast are outstanding and faultless. Their impact begins with musical narration by a group of sexy female street urchins, and concludes with a gigantic inflatable Audrey II puppet that is animated by the entire ensemble. Brent Hill and Esthen Hannaford are delightful leads, with Hill’s doubling as both Seymour and the voice of Audrey II throughout the show, even when he is the sole actor on stage. Hill’s sharp and fast-paced character changes push his performance and musical numbers from endearing to fantastic. Likewise, Hannaford pairs delicacy with digression, with an unrelenting comedic presence from the show’s melodramatic beginnings to a powerful passion at her heartbreaking exit.
While the production is lead by this focal couple, the entire ensemble are equally as talented and captivating. An honourable mention must go to Scott Johnson as the horrifying yet hilarious sadistic dentist Orin. Equally as important are the terrific trio Josie Lane, Chloe Zule and Angelique Cassimatis, who keep the show progressing with perky prowess throughout their narration numbers and character changes.
Erth Visual and Physical brings the most memorable cast member to the stage, with an Audrey II puppet that is portrayed through various sizes, stages, and models. From its infancy as a potplant manipulated by the actors’ hands, to an eventual man devouring spectacle that bursts its way out of the stop that contains it, each Audrey II is carefully crafted and wonderfully displayed. Likewise, the set and costume design being entirely black and white in the first act, and loud and filled with colour in the second, filled the simplistic space with presence that accompanied the cast’s impact.
As funny as the plot may be overall, Bryant reminds us of the show’s darker underlying commentary on familial abuse, domestic violence, and overall gain from the sacrifice of others. Thankfully, the plot sticks to the original unsettling tone and messages, rather than meandering towards the 80’s film adaptation that sucks the flavour and fire out of the tragic yet terrific ending. Tinderbox Productions pushes the show onto the contemporary Australian stage through an exposition of the musical’s humour, dark content, lively characters, and bizarre synopsis to create a fresh yet familiar rendition of this cult classic.
– Written by Rhumer Diball June 3rd 2016
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS PRESENTED BY TINDERBOX PRODUCTIONS & QPAC
WEs JUN 1 – SAT 11 JUN 2016. BRSISBANE
Originally Published for My City Life.