With a sassy evening of satirical splendour, Howard Ashman (Book and Lyric) and Alan Menken's (Music) dark yet comic musical Little Shop Of Horrors hit the Carriageworks, Leeds as the final leg of its tour. Co-Produced by Bite My Thumb, Gravitas Entertainment and Cutting Edge Theatre the audience are transported back to 1960's Skid Row and into the hapless interior of Mushnik Florists. Amongst the decaying plants we meet the proprietor Mushnik himself and his assistants Audrey and Seymour. With the help of the omnipresent and sparkling singing of the narrative trio - The Ronettes, we follow Seymour's meteoric rise to fortune and fame after he stumbles upon a new genus of plant, but this one has a carnivorous appetite and a mission of world domination!

This production impressed me in many ways and have some nice touches I haven't seen before, such as the progressive addition of colour to the grey palette of the opening representation of the characters, location and circumstance. A big thumbs up to director Neil Knipe for not recreating the stock production that usually does the rounds with such a popular show. The Ronettes as separate entities to the urchins also added a less familiar dimension to the show, as we questioned if they controlled or aided the unravelling story and its fiendish conclusion. The skilled band of 5 musicians led by Gavin Usher brought the authentic 1960's musical genres to life and framed the action well, as did the lighting design by Ali Fox.

With a small cast of just 14 performers this production felt tight and well rehearsed, however I felt the opening full ensemble number Little Shop of Horrors (Downtown) suffered in terms of the attack and pizzazz that a larger company can achieve. This in no way detracted from the performance, the work rate and characterisation of the cast, fully absorbed and drew in the audience. The stand out performer of the evening has to be Ronan Pilkington as Seymour. His depiction never became a copy of Rick Moranis’s film version of the character, his personalisation was both intelligently innovative yet true to the writer’s intent. Pilkington's singing was flawless, sincere and wholly believable. Vicki Holmes as Audrey continued this theme ensuring that the film actress, Ellen Green's, squeaky speaking voice was not imitated and by doing this Holmes found a new depth to the insecurities of the character. Somewhere that's Green was exquisitely understood and sung and the poignancy within the mockery was bared for all to see. Matt Stirk appeared a little young in role as Mushnik initially, but he quickly grew on me and he delivered an accomplished performance with a convincing vocal. Mushnik and Son was a very entertaining number with just the right amount of pathos. A very confident performance of Orin by Joe Hamilton was overshadowed by his superb cameo appearance as Bernstein...vocally and visually wonderful!

The star of the show, the plant Audrey ll was an impressive piece of theatre design by Sam Curwen and definitely needs a mention. The voice of Audrey ll, James Sidgwick was well sung with great diction so not to miss any of the one liners, but still with the musical rock tone and power it requires. Beth Rowett (Crystal) Claire Hoyland (Ronette) and Rosie Mountford (Chiffon) as the aforementioned Ronettes, blazed a vocal trail from the very opening title track number and never relented. These 3 girls sounded great together with solid and mature harmonies, great intonation and authentic girl group dance moves. Fully immersed in the action, these three ladies were polished, precise and perfect in role! The Urchin's Ellen (Tyne Brown) Ricky (Magnus Cameron) and Martine (Emily Herbert), showed professionalism and focus way beyond their years, throughout the production, these are 3 youngsters to keep an out for in the future.

All in all, a top night of entertainment by a strong and polished cast, creative and production team. Well worth a visit!

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 16th October 2019

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★