Tuesday, July 23

Little Shop of Horrors – Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Composer Alan Menken is best known nowadays as the man who, together with Writer Howard Ashman, revitalised the Walt Disney franchise in the early 1990’s, through their work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Indeed, such is his creative genius that he is one of only 19 people in all entertainment history to be classified an EGOT, winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony for work spanning five decades. Tonight, we have the opportunity to enjoy one of Menken and Ashman’s earlier creations from 1986, with a cracking revival tour of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ reaching the Octagon Theatre in Bolton.

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ has become a staple Amateur and Youth theatre production over the last thirty years, combining a small cast with a relatively simple set it can be staged relatively cheaply, with only the puppetry and special effects of ‘Audrey II’ causing a budget headache for the producers. As a result of this ubiquity, I have seen many versions of this show but never been blown away by any of them, I’m pleased to say that was rectified this evening. This co production (Octagon Theatre, New Wolsey, Theatre by the Lake and Hull Truck) is perfect in scale for this ‘off off Broadway’ musical, small without losing the rocking clout we expect from this Menken musical. The touring set (TK Hay) sits perfectly in the thrust stage of the Octagon allowing intimacy for audience and cast alike, with the cast (doubling as band throughout) perched on top of the shop. Director Lottie Wakeham utilises her vast experience in this space to ensure a vibrant atmosphere, the show never loses pace, aided by an extremely enthusiastic press night audience.

‘Mushnik & Son’ is a down at heel florist on Skid Row which suddenly flourishes after employee Seymour (Oliver Mawdsley) discovers a mysterious new plant which he christens Audrey II in honour of his colleague (and secret crush) Audrey (Laura Jane Matthewson). Audrey II needs feeding, but not any ordinary plant food will suffice and the schlock horror blood fest which ensues is hilariously depicted allowing the talented cast to give full reign to their comic talents. Matthew Ganley gives a gloriously exaggerated interpretation of Orin, the sadistic Dentist boyfriend of Audrey, whilst Andrew Whitehead provides excellent physical comedy in the role of the splenetic owner Mushnik, before his grisly demise. Both Mawdsley and Matthewson manage to portray the tender as well as the comedic as the doomed lovers, especially during their duet (Somewhere That’s Green) and their clarity of delivery allows Menken’s dialogue to sound fresh and funny and adds immensely to the enjoyment of the show as a comedy as well as musical spectacle.

However, the undoubted star of the show was the ‘Mean Green’ that was Audrey II, growing before our eyes throughout the evening, Michael Fawkes has created a beautiful monster, When combined with Matthew Heywood as Puppeteer and the glorious rock soul voice of Anton Stephens, ‘Feed Me’ has never looked and sounded so good, with backing by the Ronettes (Janna May, Chardai Shaw and Zwelya Mitchell Dos Santos), Wakeham created a concert atmosphere that blew the roof off on the opening night of this three week stay.

Verdict: A monster of a night out, I guarantee you’ll leave the theatre smiling.

Playing until 18th May, https://octagonbolton.co.uk/events/little-shop-of-horrors#dates-and-times

Reviewer: Paul Wilcox

Reviewed: 25th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.