All images used with kind permission of Matthew Hennessy
Back to the Future has to be on my top ten list of greatest films of all time, and I bet you’re all dying for me to explain my reasoning, aren’t cha? No, what’d you mean, no? Going to tell you anyway….
In an era when sci-fi meant spaceships flying around shooting at each other, Marty and the Doc came along in a multi-genre blockbuster; it was cool action/adventure, coming of age rom-com, even spaghetti western in further episodes. But quintessentially, it was sci-fi, sci-fi you could watch with your parents without them questioning “are we still on the same planet as before?” or “why is that brown hairy beast piloting a spaceship when it can’t even talk?” and so such dribble.
Ever since Elliot befriended a long-necked rubber alien with a light-pen finger, breaking the boundaries of sci-fi was common in the eighties, plots as wide as two nerds generating the perfect female from a dolly and government computer system, to a group of university dropouts who create parapsychological equipment to trap ghosts. But there was one movie you rarely see on reruns, again sci-fi with a difference; having universal appeal, perhaps crossing genre with musicals was the reason for it not being quite so memorable.
Despite critical acclaim on release, The Little Shop of Horrors tends to be rather lost in time, captivating a cult following. Seems the appearances of either Rick Moranis or Steve Martin couldn’t maintain mainstream attention as decades passed. But I loved it for its surreal horror-com come doo-wop musical mesh; it’s kind of Day of the Triffids meets West Side Story, with laughs, unbelievably. In fact, while its roots are from Roger Corman’s low-budget 1960 film, this movie is based on its off-Broadway musical adaption by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman.
But it’s been so long since I’ve seen it, I nudged myself whilst sitting in awe at Devizes’ wonderful Wharf Theatre on its opening night yesterday, I’d forgotten quite how it ends. It does conclude, for the record, in a fashion akin to its bizarre entirety, rejecting the confounds of stereotypical musicals with slushy happy endings, (unlike the film which, last minute, abandoned the musical’s ending for a gladder one) and perhaps with a moral that accidental fame can expose your darkest secrets, or maybe not, but I’ll say no more spoilers; You. Must. See. This.
One of the longest running productions at the Wharf, you’ve got until next Saturday, 3rd November before it is history you’ll regret not bearing witness to. The Little Shop of Horrors is everything you dreamed it would be, and more. Aside the astute acting, fitting choreography and sublime musical accompaniment, which you should take as red from the quality benchmark of the Wharf’s previous productions, one thing which bugged me prior was how they’d recreate the more complex elements of the movie, being it’s an ever-growing, soul singing, jive talking Venus Flytrap from outer space, is all.
I’ll let you in now, it does not disappoint, it amazes. Hereward Newton-Edward’s masterful puppetry breathes life into Audrey 2, Samuel Phillis providing its bellowing soul voice, and with it a tidal wave of belly-laughs. Not that the only giggles to be had here are from the plant itself, the comical brilliance of side-characters such as the wino, played by Phil Greenaway, and the rounded main characters make for some highly amusing moments. Convincingly portrayed and so superbly acted, particularly Emma Holmes as Aubrey and Matt Dauncey as Jewish florist, Mr Mushnik; if I’d met these performers back stage I’d have expected them to be just as their characters, even consider showing Johnathon West an issue with a chipped tooth of mine (he plays Orin Scrivello, the tormenter dentist boyfriend of Audrey, you see?!)
A flashback to Ghostbusters, where the bemused ‘key-master’ stumbles across ‘gatekeeper’ Sigourney Weaver, reminds me there could be only one Rick Moranis, a relatively unsung hero of eighties US comedy, perfectly cast as the scrawny geek protagonist here, possibly inimitable. It’s a role Chris Underwood, after twenty previous performances at The Wharf, slips under his belt with an astounding performance.
This dazzling show is sewn together with the chorus trio of Lou Cox, Laura Deacon and Georgia Elson, playing snidely, fifties bubble-gum-blowing schoolgirls who just seem to be hanging around the Little Shop to narrate a doo-wop song out of any situation arising, and masterfully too.
The director Emily Holmes, production team, band, and its cast, this united performance, and the Wharf Theatre in general is an asset to our little town, already bustling with a variety of quality entertainment, and overflowing with talent. Why bother forking out a king’s ransom for a West-End show when this is on your doorstep? Even the drinks here are cheaper than in pubs!
Prior to the play starting my attention was drawn to a small cat who’d wandered into the contemporarily decorated foyer, indisputably without ticket, and the longboats moored outside; thespian pomposity has no home here; the Wharf Theatre is genuine, welcoming and has been sourcing actors and production teams locally since 1947. So, if like me, you’ve been missing out on our theatrical gem, this performance is the ideal time to check it out. Already popular and selling out fast, there’s no reason to flatter this show, I’m only, like a Catchphrase contestant, saying what I saw.