Little Shop of Horrors, New Victoria Theatre Woking. ****

Little Shop of Horrors Photograph: Matt Martin

Sell A Door Theatre Company have created a vibrant production with a talented and committed cast of performers. Director Tara Louis Wilkinson has taken a fresh look at the roles made famous by the likes of Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis, and is not afraid to tone down the crazy in favour of a more naturalistic approach to characterisation. As a result, Sam Lupton and Stephanie Clift are able to draw upon their acting skills as opposed to the stereotypes which are often the stock option in this particular musical. Both performers deliver strong vocal performances, complementing each other well and developing an innocent chemistry which builds as the plot unfolds. The contrast between their solos in Act One through to the opening songs of Act Two is heart warming, and the subtlety unexpectedly delivers a more emotional impact than the obviously hilarious plot. Lupton has a real grasp of the combination of vulnerability and determination of the character, successfully playing Seymour straight, allowing the natural comedy within his situation to emerge alongside the plot. Stephanie Clift’s emotive, colourful vocals and genuine desperation to find an idyllic life reveal a deeper side of Audrey. She is not just the dumb blonde, and the more naturalistic approach taken allows us to understand the character’s low self esteem and vulnerability more thoroughly. As a result, we feel for the characters, which as we all know is key to the successful execution of the musical theatre form.

Rhydian Roberts does not always fully convince as the dentist; the character lacked impact, hindered by the direction of the songs which seemed to undersell his performance level. As the plot makes clear leading up to the arrival of the character, the Dentist is different to the other characters struggling on Skid Row, so having his main number staged on the streets of the city, without the horrors of his dental surgery around him, dampened the impact of the song and seemed almost to soften the character.  The Dentist should pack a real punch in spite of the comedic genre of the piece, and the lack of visual significance given to the role (the surgery almost hidden away, allowing no prominence) meant that as hard as Rhydian worked, the ‘cameo’ was rather thankless. Roberts is a strong performer with an elegant voice and vivacious personality, and thankfully the characters he plays in Act Two enable us to see this. The changes of voice and physicality added a real sense of comedy to the song in which he multi roles, and it was certainly the case that whilst we were treated to his fantastic singing voice in Act One, Act Two showcased him as a performer much more effectively. 

David Shields’ has created a suitably disorganised, faded, temporary feeling set reinforcing the fact that Skid Row isn't the type of place people want to stay in too long, and establishing the surroundings perfectly prior to the events about to unfold. The angles of the scenery and dingy colour scheme contrast with the colourful lighting (by Charlie Morgan Jones) used to compliment the energetic dance numbers, and provide corners which are instantly transformed into dangerous places by carefully cast shadows. To be specific, the dental surgery feels too ‘back alley’ to make the final scene of Act One truly startling, but Mushnik’s flower shop encapsulates the poverty of Skid Row perfectly; its claustrophobic atmosphere gradually increasing with each of Audrey II’s growth spurts. The layout of the flower shop is key to the comedic visual impact of the plant, and it's central upstage location allows its tentacles and roots to sprawl downstage in a bizarre combination of both the sinister and the hilarious, leading up to the final musical number, ‘Mean Green Monster from Outer Space’. 

Little Shop of Horrors Photograph: Matt Martin

The balance of the sound is worth particular note. Sound designer Gareth Owen has done an outstanding job both of balancing the performer’s vocals with complete clarity, and in his application of non-diegetic sound during the show. The radio station playing music of the era and the ‘sounds’ of Skid Row all contribute to the atmosphere of the piece.

A funny, charming production which serves its actors well whilst providing the audience with an entertaining and engaging night out. 

Little Shop of Horrors is on tour between now and 26th November 2016. See the production’s website for details and tickets.