I remember Rhydian Roberts – or simply Rhydian. I remember the fact that he didn’t win, but I can’t remember who won. Although, to be honest, without looking it up I couldn’t remember when it was, or even what series it was: Pop Idol, X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, or whatever. Yet his stage presence has never left my mind, so I was excited to find out he’d be involved in The Little Shop of Horrors, which began its run at Venue Cymru on the 16th. In such a screwball musical as this one, I couldn’t imagine any other talent show contestant – or any other recent pop star – to fit in as well as this guy. And I was right – he was great. The whole thing was.
There was a lovely ambience as we walked to our seats; both stage and auditorium had received a generous spray of artificial fog, while the sound of rain and thunder came ominously from the speakers. There was also a clever use of brief radio snippets, in between white noise interference, of a few news items we’d later hear in the show. The curtain was open, too – revealing the set. It was the best way to get everyone excited – teasing those who have never seen it, and providing those of us who know it with a bit of irony.
Speaking of the set – it was an element that, I imagine, could split fans of the show. The buildings were warped; with crooked bricks and windows you’d expect to see in a Tim Burton animation. They occasionally glowed with bright Halloweenish greens and purples. And for the backdrop we had the backstreets of Skid Row, which were also distorted – the sinister urban balconies and ladders winding into a full circle, with the sky frequently changing colour in the centre. Those expecting the inner-city grittiness of earlier productions would’ve been disappointed, but that that doesn’t mean this interpretation didn’t work. The cartoonishness didn’t hinder the drama in the slightest – and even when there is drama, it’s black comedy. The expressive set, along with the lighting, complemented the music and the surreal story. Also, having a “Music Box” shop, in which we could just about see the live band through the window, was a nice touch.
There were few very faults with regards to the performances. The only one I can remember is the accents – they kept going off a bit. But this was only a minor distraction; I forgot about it as soon as they got back on track. Sam Lupton played Seymour in a way that reminded me of Michael J Fox – he wasn’t as awkward as the guy in the film, being oddly charismatic for the unlucky teenager archetype. Stephanie Clift played Audrey – the original – and created a hilarious and endearing character. It’s difficult to make a death scene so funny, but Clift made her own demise wickedly amusing without breaking character. Paul Kissaun made a surprisingly loveable Mushnik, too. Back to Rhydian, who played a few roles, but his central part was Orin Scrivello – a twisted combination of leather-clad thug and dentist. He was a great performer, who always managed to stay in control and not go over the top – which would have been an easy thing to do given the character. These were my highlights, but there wasn’t a weak performance.
There were a few technical hitches with the mics; Mushnik got interrupted by some painful feedback early on, and the actors occasionally became inaudible if they moved around the stage during a speech. But this was the opening night, and I’m sure they’ll sort it soon.
It’s unmissable for established fans – this is a fantastic take on an old favourite. For those who don’t know anything about Little Shop – it’s a comedy musical about a man-eating plant, and this production, like most of the characters, is slickly executed.