So, tonight we witnessed the birth of a brand new Belfast-based company, MMK Productions, which – if this debut is anything to go by – will grow and grow in stature and reputation just like the ‘strange and interesting’ plant that is so central to its premiere production.
Well done to all at MMK Productions (made up of creatives, Director, Kim Marston, Musical Director, Matthew Campbell, and, Choreographer, Michael McEvoy) on this bright, well-dressed and well-paced production of the cult musical comedy.
Performed here by enthusiastic teenagers as the company’s inaugural Summer Youth project, it would appear that Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s ‘50s musical sci-fi spoof – based on the original film – is still as popular as ever and it is truly a job well done for all involved as this slick staging of the show was achieved in such a short time frame.
The effective and practical set captured the desolate and run-down nature of the place with its brick walls on either side peppered with torn and tattered posters (of the sci-fi B-movie genre that this show perfectly sends up! … a nice touch) and Mushnik’s flower shop with its badly stained walls taking centre stage representing its Skid Row setting, dwarfed on either side by the skyscrapers of the city’s more affluent areas.
However, one small criticism would be that, while the steps on either side of the stage are practical for the show’s many small groupings to gather on, steps that go nowhere except into a brick wall take away from the authenticity of the rest of the set … perhaps a door, even a painted one, at the top of the steps could have solved this.
This carnivorous comedy was well-cast with Courtney Burns, who in my mind is a much underrated local performer, as Audrey, but not as the stereotypical dumb blonde here, but more of a thoughtful girl with no high expectations who, because of being trapped as a victim of her boyfriend’s violence, has become a shallow dreamer of better times.
Curtis Patrick’s Seymour is spot-on as the timid and meek little nerd who works in the flower shop dividing his time between his two Audreys.
With a couple of productions in the role of the plant already under his leaves, Kyle Emerson could easily be ‘planting the seeds’ to a part-time career in the role of the toilet-mouthed Audrey II, while Conor Johnston really got his teeth into his role and made the most of his time as the sadistic dentist, Orin, and Joshua Martin provided solid support in what must be the show’s most thankless role as shop-owner, Mr Mushnik.
I was particularly impressed with the collective and individual performances of the all-important chorus of street urchins, who, instead of playing the usual Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette characters, became the The Ronettes for this production with their number increased to six.
Opting for a female vocal-style group of six narrators – Lucy McIlwaine, Jessica Treacy, Alice Lambert, Rebekah Boyd, Zoe Managh and Rebekah Patterson – worked on two levels as it gave a much fuller vocal sound in addition to giving more singers the chance of an important role.
However, although he did well, I felt that using the talented Tommy Bell in multiple-roles with inadequate quick-change time was both unfair to the performer and to other potential solo performers from the ensemble who could have shared these roles.
The busy ensemble really filled this show out both visually and vocally and all worked hard to ensure its success, especially during the many big production moments.
The creative team gelled well together here and, collectively, produced many highlights with a 10-piece rocking band, good lighting and some clever choreography and direction.
These highlights included the uniformity of the girls’ shoes (small, but impressive point) and the choreography and vocals during Skid Row, when the movement of the cast reflected how depressing their hum-drum existence really was in the run-down area of the piece.
There was very effective use of footlights in creating the fantasy feel of the arrival of the plant during Da-Doo and again for creating a more sinister feel during Feed Me, while the set’s high side windows were also used to good effect here to provide some much needed height variation for performers.
Musically, all of the songs were well presented with solid choral work throughout and I particularly liked the nice brass input during Grow For Me, while Somewhere That’s Green was a well-realised fantasy number that created sympathy and pity for Audrey and made brilliant use of the ensemble to bring the song’s dream-like lyrics to life.
Finally, I liked that the Ronettes each had individual personalities through their dress both during the show and at the end when they all wore red, but with totally different styles of costume, and the many shades of green in the costuming of the ensemble also worked well in the final number.
Unlike Audrey II, MMK Productions may not be after world domination, but, by anyone’s standards, this was more of a ‘great’ debut than just a ‘strange and interesting’ one.
Little Shop Of Horrors
The MAC, Belfast
Fri 4-Sat 5 Aug
Photo credit: Melissa Gordon of Gorgeous Photography