Presented by Jumpboard Pictures in association with Auckland Live
Directed by Oliver Driver
Musical Direction by Leon Radojkovic
Herald Theatre, Auckland | May 13-24
Some of my most cherished film-going experiences have been with live musical accompaniment, including Goblin performing alongside Suspiria and The Passion of Joan of Arc with the Silencio Ensemble. Those particular films are now irrevocably tied to those specific viewing experiences. And Live Live Cinema’s presentation of Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors has rightfully cemented its place alongside them.
Those unfamiliar to the original 1960 film or its musical adaptation shouldn’t let that stop them from seeing this utterly captivating show. All you need to know about the film is that it was shot in two days with an obscenely low budget and features a man-eating plant named Audrey Jr. raised by a clumsy employee at a flower shop. But what the film lacks in polish, especially compared to the better-known update, it makes up for in uncensored eccentricity. It’s a quintessential cult movie, featuring terrible dialogue, oddball characters, and nonsensical plot lines.
Defying expectations, director Oliver Driver and musical director Leon Radojkovic have created an entirely new soundtrack (dialogue, foley, and music) for the film with a small cast of four performers (Hayley Sproull, Byron Coll, Laughton Kora, and Barnie Duncan) on stage. It’s a lot to demand from the actors/musicians, but they pull it off superbly. Whether it’s Sproull embodying delightful love interest Audrey, Coll doing slapstick and tripping over buckets as protagonist Seymour, Duncan emulating Jack Nicholson’s dental masochist, or Kora’s surprising turn as shop owner Gravis Mushnik, they all have moments in the spotlight. In fact, they’re so good you almost wish it was just a full-blown stage adaptation. What we get instead is a theatrical workout, watching the performers attempt to keep up with the action on screen, and it’s nonetheless an entertaining alternative.
Because of how hectic the nature of the show is, the stage occasionally competes for the audience’s attention over the film. In direct contrast to the black-and-white footage, the set is a candy-coloured spectacle, overflowing with balloons, flowers, and other miscellaneous knick-knacks which double as tools for foley sound effects. While this might be detrimental to most shows, it only adds to the entertainment value here, creating an air of kitschy chaos. At best, moments of insanity in the film are brought to new heights, such as when the sound of dentist equipment is replicated using an electric saw. At worst, the music occasionally drowns out the dialogue so central to the show’s charm.
While the original Little Shop of Horrors is far from a great film, it has a longstanding reputation as a definitive cult classic for a reason. Few films manage to be so unbelievably silly, embracing every facet of nonsense without a second thought. The unsung star of the show, then, is Charles B. Griffith’s screenplay, source of some of the strangest dialogue and characters to grace the silver screen, recalling modern cult hits like The Room and Troll 2 with the self-awareness of a John Waters film.
If you’ve ever wanted to watch the original Little Shop of Horrors, or just felt like re-watching it, Live Live Cinema is the way to go. Shamelessly silly, this is essential viewing for anyone who likes their entertainment with its tongue pressed firmly against its cheek.