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REVIEW - Little Shop of Horrors is the talk of the town and you'll definitely want to Seymour over and over again!


We went to the Octagon Theatre, Bolton to watch Little Shop of Horrors. Read what our reviewer Karen Ryder had to say about this amazing production...

That famous opening drum roll goosed my bumps, those glorious three descending notes rang out tingling my spine, and by the time the deeply delicious voice had kicked in warning us about events on the 23rd day of the month of September, I was already mentally planning when I could come and watch this production of Little Shop Of Horrors again!  And if the audience reaction was anything to go by on this opening night, I know I won’t be the only one!  What a show.  I mean, seriously!  What.  A.  Show!

If you are a Little Shop newbie, then welcome to Skid Row, a dark, dismal and grey corner of New York that shows how hard work and dedication can turn your life around………..ok so that’s not entirely true.  But, if you do happen to be in possession of an alien life form disguised as a plant that lives entirely off fresh blood, then fame and fortune can absolutely be yours!  Seymour works alongside Audrey in Mr. Mushnik’s failing flower shop.  He has no money, no prospects, and no life.  He is also hopelessly in love with co worker Audrey, who is dating a semi sadist dentist named Orin, and gets his kicks inflicting pain on people, including Audrey.  But Audrey thinks so little of herself and feels so trapped that she believes Orin is all she deserves.  Seymour discovers a solution to it all in a strange and mysterious plant he discovered after a total eclipse of the sun, which he named Audrey II after the love of his life.

Twoey, as he affectionately calls the plant, is so unique looking that it starts pulling in paying customers, so the fear is real when it starts wilting.  Plant food, water - nothing seems to work, until it shows interest in Seymour’s pricked finger.  A few drops of blood are rewarded with a growth spurt, and as Twoey’s appetite grows bigger by the day, Seymour realises he can solve many problems with one teensy tiny murder.  Kill Orin and not only is Audrey safe and free, but Twoey continues to grow and bring him all the wonderful things he desires.  How does he know this?  Twoey told him so.  Oh yeah, did I forget to mention?  The plant can talk!  Of course, the path of true love never did run smoothly, especially when a human eating, wise cracking, bad ass alien plant is pulling all the strings.  And so the only question left is, how far will you go to fulfil your dreams? 

Little Shop Of Horrors
, regardless of its killing spree, is a fast paced, witty, upbeat, and fun filled show of the highest order.  The set design by TK Hay immediately drops you in the heart of Skid Row, with trash cans, abandoned shopping trolleys, alleyways, metal stair fire escapes, and Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop in the heart of it, set back on a slightly raised platform.  This works wonders in multiple ways, for it separates the shop from the rest of the performance space, making it clear where the alley way, street or dentist room are.  It also has slated grills at its base that look like New York drains, but which double up as a clever lighting source and outlet for dry ice, aka the famous New York steam.  And it also provides the perfect platform for when Audrey II has grown to astronomical proportions, making the plant the main focal point.  Nic Farman’s lighting design hooks you into this juxtaposed feel good, frenzied blood bath by flooding us with greens, reds, and creating his own rainbow palate to take the good, the bad, and the alien of this world and perfectly place us and our emotions exactly where they need to be.  Blended into this incredible creative team is the sound design by James Cook, that is so seamless, you will forget that much of what you hear isn’t actually real!

There’s nothing downtown or skid row about this outstanding cast either.  From the moment you see any of them, they draw you in, with the homeless skid rowians nestling under their blankets on the stairs next to the audience, our three power houses Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon blowing your minds with their vocals, Seymour and Audrey flapping around a stressed and angry Mr. Mushnik, and Orin strutting his danger across the stage.  The accents, particularly in Seymour, Audrey and Mr. Mushnik are specifically New York American and the detail that each and every cast member has gifted is a work of art in itself. 

Oliver Mawdsley
is simply outstanding as Seymour.  He is so animated, so fully invested in the character.  From his nervous hunched shoulders to his twitchy face as he stresses about what is the right thing to do.  It’s really hard to tear your eyes off him for he embodies everything that Seymour is, and then some.  You can see a multitude of thoughts per second flash across his face and he truly wears this character’s heart on his sleeve.  Nothing is hidden from us.  This means you completely and utterly believe and invest in his performance.  Whether he is reaching out the audience pleading for help by his facial expressions alone as Orin flings him around the stage, or using his physicality to portray his uncertainty as he tries to make himself disappear into the folds of the dentist chair, or climb it to its peak to escape, he truly is one of the most generous and detailed performers I have seen.  Vocally he is a dream to listen to and his believable partnership with what is ultimately a puppet, with Audrey II is mind blowing. 

Laura Jane Matthewson
will blow your socks off as Audrey and is a breath of fresh air with her interpretation of the character.  Gone is the ditsy, air headed side of Audrey, and instead she is a stronger, more capable woman.  This gives so much licence to reinterpret her lines, her songs, and it is a joy to behold.  In the talented hands of Matthewson, Audrey is recognised as being trapped by circumstance, believing her past must dictate her future, and it leaves her with little self worth.  This is her downfall, not her intellect.  This is why she stays with Orin and not because she doesn’t know any better as seen in previous interpretations.  This version of Audrey absolutely knows better, she just doesn’t believe she deserves it.  Matthewson therefore transformed Somewhere That’s Green into a message of hope for an uncomplicated future, and it made her love story with Seymour seem so much more about genuine love, than simply the need to be with someone, anyone, who paid her attention.  Again, this meant that another song, Suddenly Seymour, was seen through fresh eyes, and genuinely moved me in a way I haven’t experienced before with this song.

Zweyla Mitchell Dos Santos, Chardai Shaw
, and Janna May are sensational as Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon.  They own the stage whenever they appear with their sass, their strut, and their stupendous vocals.  They take it in turns to fill the theatre with the powerhouse voices and harmonise together like they’ve been a trio all their lives.  Their energy is relentless and I want them to form a group!  Andrew Whitehead is a force to be reckoned with as Mr. Mushnik.  He plays the stressed out, down on his luck shop owner with exceptional comedic timing and seems to instinctively know when to play with the light and shade of his character.  His detailed responses as to what’s going on are worth looking out for too.  Matthew Ganley is so multi-talented, portraying not only Orin the dentist, but a whole host of characters, from a derelict to his quick character changes during The Meek Shall Inherit.  As Orin, he has absolutely nailed the slightly unhinged and it is delightfully disturbing.  He can be insanely laughing one minute, full of confident swagger the next, before he flips on a knife edge into threatening, just before he reverses and starts flirting!  He is mesmerising to watch and had the audience in nervous stitches at his unpredictability. 

Matthew Heywood
beautifully supports the cast as a derelict, and even appears slaying it on guitar!  But most of his work sees him hidden away as puppeteer of Audrey II, designed and directed by the phenomenal Michael Fowkes.  His puppeteering is so good that more than one person, myself included, questioned whether there was a real person living inside of Audrey II, or whether it was done by mechanics or something else, and the joy of it is, we left none the wiser.  The magic and mystery of Audrey II was epic and with roots, leaves, and teeth flailing around with such passion, speed and intricacy, I won’t be turning to a plant based diet any time soon.  I mean, the puppet skills were so on point, that I sat entirely engrossed as the plants mouth and throat even reverberated with vibrato when singing!  I mean, come on!  These are incredibly special and awe inspiring details and talent.  Lastly, but by no means least is Anton Stephans.  What a whirlwind, all encompassing, iconic and commanding performance.  Stephans does appear on stage as a few different characters, but he is the genius that gives Audrey II its mood and ‘tude, its sass and brass.

It is a voice I promise you will not forget, utterly dripping with personality, he creates an eclectic mix of rock, gospel, Motown and hits heights you didn’t even know existed.  Nothing I can say will do him, or any of this team justice.  Just like Audrey II, you really do have to see it, and hear it, to believe it.  I also have to give a shout out to Migdalia Van Der Hoven, the award-winning drummer who made my gooses bump right from the off.  I was equally blown away when I realised this star was also producing numerous sound effects throughout, such as the ominous clock ticking time away.  Oh yeah, I’ve not even mentioned yet that this cast are also interchangeable as the band!  One minute they’re belting out a number, blending in with sublime harmonies, or giving their all in a scene, the next, they’re up on the balcony, or at the sides of the stage hammering away at the keys, rocking a guitar, or goodness knows what else.  I truly couldn’t keep up with their endless skills.

Lotte Wakeham
has done it again!  What a director.  She has somehow taken a much loved and well-known musical and not only given it a brand new lease of life, but has equally kept it respectfully familiar, ensuring that everyone will fall in love with this musical by the award winning Howard Ashman and Alan Menken over and over again.  By the end, the cast, who clearly love this show as both performers and fans, completely set the Octagon Theatre alight!  The audience were on their feet, dancing, singing, soaking up this beautifully perfect moment.  Glitter canons, balloons, and a theatre full of serotonin, this is a night I will never forget, and I know that this mean green mother from outta space has willingly taken the humans of Bolton into an entirely different realm!  Grab a ticket however you can for Little Shop Of Horrors will feed your soul, but remember, whatever they offer you – DON’T FEED THE PLANTS!   


Little Shop of Horrors is on at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton until Saturday 18th May 2024.


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