RHUL hits the Fringe: Singing on Skid Row

Michele Theil heads up to Edinburgh to review an old-school musical with a wonderful cast and crew.

Ethereal Theatre Company held auditions at Royal Holloway months ago, choosing the best of the best to go with them to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to perform the cult classic ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’.

As the other audience members and I stood in line to enter The Grand Theatre at Surgeons Hall in Edinburgh for their last performance, two of the show’s crew greeted us in hazmat suits and stamped us all with Skid Row barcode ‘tattoos’, a key component of the direction in which the production has gone in. Director Mahmoud Zayat took Howard Ashman’s script and incorporated dystopic themes of “control”, “surveillance” and “innovate science”. This production thus has Skid Row under surveillance, as they are an experiment in determining a person’s level of greed.

For those who don’t know, the show is about a “strange and interesting” plant named Audrey II who manipulates titular character Seymour into doing its bidding in exchange for wealth, success and love.

Marcus Jones was charmingly dorky as Seymour, playing into the ‘nerd’ stereotype well with his sweater vest and glasses. Jones sang Seymour’s songs extremely well and the applause he got was definitely well deserved. Greg James’ depiction of Mr Mushnik and the tempestuous and strange ‘father/son’ relationship he shares with Seymour earned both actors numerous chuckles and a round of applause from the audience, particularly following the iconic song ‘Mushnik and Son’.

Meanwhile, Tash Kayser stunned as Seymour’s love interest Audrey, taking the audience’s breath away as she sang her solo ‘Somewhere That’s Green’. Kayser’s voice and the way she choked up slightly through the song worked well with the soft and melancholy tone of the music. The abusive relationship between Josh Berrington’s creepy Dentist and the sweet Audrey was perfectly portrayed by the two actors. They each drove their character traits to the extreme eliciting sympathy for Audrey and disgust (and laughter in some cases) for The Dentist from the audience.

The “trio of 1960s street urchins”, Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon, were decked out in vibrant and colourful dresses, often drawing the audience’s attention to them. The characters, portrayed by Emily Bradbury, Lucy Helen Carruthers and Katie Wilmore respectively, were absolutely stunning in both their narrative and performative aspects.

The four-woman strong Ensemble, consisting of Molly Cheesley, Ellie Cozens, Emma Halahan and Alicia O’Neill, allowed necessary parts and roles to be added to the performance and wonderfully linked together the separate aspects of the musical. All members of the cast spoke in American accents, per the location of the original musical, a less-than-easy task that they all excelled at.

An amazing performance from Anna Tammela as the plant, Audrey II, during ‘Feed Me (Git It)’, led the audience to erupt into cheers at her talent. As the musical moved forward, and as characters were “eaten” by Audrey II, they would go offstage and appear onstage again, dressed in green morph suits and decked out in green facepaint, in order to ‘become’ the plant. By the end, the ‘vines’, originally people, stretched out towards the audience and threatened to consume us all.

Of course, the entire show would not have been successful, or even possible, without the hard work of the directors, musicians, publicity officers and backstage crew. In particular, musical director Flynn Sturgeon and choreographer Dana Hudson, definitely brought the show to life and used their extensive experience to dynamically explore the differing aspects of musical theatre within the show.

All in all, it was a wonderful performance and the cast and crew definitely did justice to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s original vision for the musical.