Weird and Unusual Plants do the Best Business [by James Wenley]
In the previous seasons of Live Live Cinema, the soundtracks to cult B Movies Dementia 13 and Carnival of Souls were recreated live by a handful of actors, musicians lead by the masterful Leon Radojkovic and a dedicated foley artist. It would be relatively easy enough to replicate the formula for their new touring show using Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors (1960).
Nah, too easy thinks Jumpboard Productions and Director Oliver Driver. Now there are just four actors who do everything: synched dialogue, instruments, and a cacophony of crazy sound effects created through an eclectic assortment of objects. With no doubt a streak of glee, they’ve assigned bell ringing duty to height-challenged Bryan Coll, and hung it high above his head. Each time a customer enters the flower shop, Coll leaps on cue. In those first Live Live Cinemas, on balance, our attention was focussed most on the screen. Here, it is incredibly difficult to take your eyes off the antics onstage.
If you are like me, you probably know the story of Little Shop through the stage musical and 1986 Frank Oz directed film version. Watching Roger Corman’s Little Shop makes me appreciate how intelligent the musical adaptation is. We’ve got the basic story of the strange and unusual man-eating plant that coaxes hapless flower assistant Seymour into entering a Faustian Pact to keep it satisfied. There’s no subplot between Audrey and the Dentist, no take over the world end game, and we have a major character that didn’t make it to the musical: Seymour’s overprotective, hypochondriac mother. The film is chock full of WTF moments, like a customer who eats flowers, and Seymour’s rather bizarre encounter with too-eager prostitutes.
The other thing to say about this film is the acting on screen is terrible, especially when you have Barnie Duncan, Hayley Sproull, Bryon Coll and Laughton Kora live in the room with you. Mel Welles as Mushnik has some actual gravitas, but the rest are in the so bad its good camp. The film was famously shot in two and a half days on the fumes of an oily rag with recycled sets. The actress who plays Audrey acts like she’s wondered off the street, and even young Jack Nicholson, sans his original vocals, is eyebrow raising bad. Obviously, this all part of the fun, and part of the spirit of Live Live Cinema is to embrace the oddities of this film time-capsule.
The stage is a chaos of pulleys, balloons, flowers, umbrellas, cornflake boxes, saws, and other odds and ends. Foley artist Gareth Van Niekerk has worked with the cast to achieve some surprises; among others, the cast have great fun creating the soundscape of the dental surgery. By necessity Driver keeps the talented cast moving, never staying in one spot for long, constantly getting a new prop to use, or hitting the instruments to play Radojkovic’s brilliant period score (which I think gets the shortest thrift, only playing in bursts). They mostly show fidelity to the dialogue, though can’t resist adding a few of their own gags in. The voice of the plant, which has a craggly electronic tinge in the original, is inexplicably delivered in a caricatured Japanese accent.
I don’t think the Live Live format adds anything to the film, nor does it take anything away. As a comedy, comes with less weight than its Live Live predecessors, less ability to change the air in the room. They aren’t attempting to deconstruct the film, or say anything particularly about it. It does exactly what you expect it to do. It’s a showcase of skill, cleverness, and funny voices, a zany and accomplished tribute to a very schlocky film.
Live Live Cinema: Little Shop of Horrors is presented by Jumpboard Productions and Auckland Live and plays at the Herald Theatre until 24 May. Details see Auckland Live.