HELEN MUSA’s weekly arts column features opening concerts and shows in Canberra
A PRODUCTION design that looked dwarfed in the Canberra Theatre, together with a sound design which rendered most of the lyrics unintelligible combined to take the gloss off the highly anticipated opening night performance of the Canberra Season of “Little Shop of Horrors”.
Set in the 1960s, “Little Shop of Horrors” satirises B grade schlock-horror movies as it tells the story of down-trodden shop assistant, Seymour (Brent Hill) who’s in love with his colleague, the mysterious Audrey (remarkably portrayed by Esther Hannaford, as a timid, whippet-thin, jumping-at-her-own-shadow creature). They both work in Mr. Mushnik’s (Tyler Coppin) failing flower shop on Skid Row. Seymour is given a strange plant, which he soon discovers has a taste for blood. The plant flourishes as Seymour feeds it with his own blood. So does Mr Mushnik’s flower shop as word of the plant spreads. However, as the plant’s appetite become more and more voracious, Seymour has trouble keeping up the supply of blood, and is forced to make some bizarre decisions.
Dean Bryant’s witty production commences with a flickering black and white television news broadcast narrated by Lee Lin Chin. The lights come up to reveal the same black and white, film noir world, in which all the characters are costumed in variations of black and white. Brilliant colour is added for the second half of the show reflecting the change in the character’s fortunes.
Alan Menken’s catchy score for the show is written in the style of 1969’s rock ‘n roll, doo wop and early motown, and the lyrics, especially those sung by the tightly choreographed trio, (Josie Lane, Chloe Lane and Angelique Cassimatis) propel the story.
Unfortunately on opening night, not only could these lyrics not be understood, but the voices of the trio and other cast members often sounded harsh, and were frequently overwhelmed by the muddy sound coming from the band. This proved particularly distracting during Esther Hannaford’s singing of the hit song “Somewhere That’s Green”.
Brent Hill’s clever out-of-kilter set was designed for the tiny Hayes Theatre. Even though some modifications appear to have been made to expand it for larger theatres, all the action still takes place in the tiny shop, giving the production an unfortunate cramped appearance. There were also sight-line issues whenever the characters moved up-stage.
Even Audrey 11, the flesh-eating plant was less impressive than expected, contained as it was, in the tiny acting area. As well, the idea of having Seymour also provide the voice for the plant proved confusing, especially in Seymour’s confrontation scene with Mr. Mushnik.
Hopefully the sound issues will be sorted out by the time you read this review, because there is much to enjoy in this production; and perhaps Luckiest Productions may need to reflect on the effects caused to the integrity of their productions by presenting them in theatres that are simply too large; because on opening night this production of “Little Shop of Horrors” certainly did not live up to the promises of its pre-publicity.