The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Little Shop of Horrors almost lets itself down in being a show that just so happens to be outside as opposed to one that finds ways of incorporating the natural surroundings into the set. That said, if it does transfer somewhere else – and, all things considered, I have no objection to the production having a life beyond this summer – it will be interesting to see how the show incorporates the use of parts of the theatre other than the stage. At one point, Audrey II (Vicky Vox), unimaginatively named after Audrey (Jemima Rooper), by the show’s protagonist, Seymour (Marc Antolin), sings from the centre of the theatre. A big cheer went up from the rear half of the auditorium, prompting the front half to wonder what was going on.
This isn’t so easily done in a proscenium arch theatre, though I note Strictly Ballroom The Musical uses a box from which the character of Doug Hastings cheers on his son. There are also large bouncy balls that make their way into the audience, to be passed around, something I’ve not seen since the Menier Chocolate Factory of production of La Cage aux Folles transferred to the Playhouse Theatre. Now, re-adjusting back to the London theatre scene after a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe can sometimes mean that one wonders what everyone is laughing at. I suppose one sees more outrageous things there than are placed on stage in London and hammed up for dramatic effect.
I couldn’t really see the point of a huge sign that never left the stage telling the audience a drive-in theatre is closed, any more than I couldn’t see the point of an almost equally large poster of President Obama in the Open Air Theatre’s production of Ragtime, when that show was set in the early twentieth-century. Here, the shop operated by Mr Mushnik (Forbes Masson), is literally, and admirably, ‘little’, and the relatively brief performance, just about stretching a few minutes beyond two hours with an interval and a padded-out finale, is slick and delightful.
Not having seen a production of this musical before, it’s was nice to finally be able to see and hear certain songs beloved of musical theatre cabarets and concerts in context. ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ is gloriously parodied, with surprisingly few changes in the lyrics, in an episode of the animated television comedy Family Guy, in an episode called ‘The Courtship of Stewie’s Father’. Rooper’s rendering in this production is altogether sublime, an impassioned yet subtle expression of longing for the realisation of her somewhat modest American Dream.
As I say, I found it less amusing than most people in the audience. Never offensive in the slightest, but merely unfunny. Through contemporary lenses, a subplot involving domestic violence (the show’s first production, off-Broadway, opened in 1982) is about as (un)amusing as the one in the recently closed London revival of Young Frankenstein. I do rather wish Orin (Matt Willis), the antagonist of the show was, well, more antagonistic. For me, the standouts in the show were Chiffon (Renée Lamb), Crystal (Seyi Omooba) and Ronnette (Christina Modestou), the trio narrators who brought to mind the show-stealing The Divas from the musical adaptation of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
A bright and colourful production, it’s one of those shows best enjoyed by simply relaxing and letting it wash over you.
Until 22 September. https://openairtheatre.com/