Little Shop
Of Horrors

Matthew Badham talks to director James Baker about a new adaptation of Little Shop Of Horrors in Salford that is a change from the usual panto

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Most people probably know Little Shop Of Horrors from Frank Oz’s 1986 Hollywood film adaptation. However, this darkly comic story started life as a low-budget, non-musical film in 1960. It was later adapted into a piece of off-Broadway musical theatre in 1982 and has since been performed worldwide. Now the story is coming to the Kings Arms pub in Salford, as part of that venue’s contribution to Manchester and Salford’s fringe theatre scene.

“I’ve gone back to the original version of the musical from 1982,” reveals director James Baker. “The film is a bit sanitised and safe. I wanted to use the off-Broadway script because it has a little more bite. It has things to say about issues like commercialism and consumerism.”

The story follows Seymour Krelborn, who spends his days in a struggling flower shop pining after glamorous co-worker Audrey and being bullied by boss Mr Mushnik. When Seymour comes across an alien plant, which he names Audrey Two, things begin to change. The till rings as customers flock to see this unique item. Events take a darker turn, however, when Seymour realises that the only way to keep his new plant healthy is to feed it human blood.

“At first, Seymour is happy because he’s getting attention from Audrey and a new-found respect from Mr Mushnik,” explains Baker. “But then it all goes wrong as he starts to lose control of Audrey Two. All too soon, Seymour is forced to turn to murder to satisfy the plant’s hunger.”

Is that where the sub-text comes in, with Audrey Two as a monster whose appetite is out of control?

“Audrey Two could be seen as the American Dream gone wrong.”

This social commentary is combined with exuberant musical numbers and, despite not having a big production team to call upon, Baker is keen to be as ambitious as possible.

“I got my start at the Kings Arms directing [the musical] Spring Awakening,” he explains.

“It sold out and received good reviews. Because of that, Zena Barrie, who owns the pub with Paul Heaton, started to talk to me about how we could work together again. I’m now artistic director, which makes me responsible for the artistic direction of the venue. I’m passionate about musical theatre and I noticed that there weren’t really any fringe musicals.

“That’s partly why I’m staging shows like Little Shop, which gives performers of musical theatre a showcase for their talents.”

What it does not give them, however, is a salary.

“Most fringe theatre works on a profit-share basis, but with short runs it’s very hard to build audiences and make money. Little Shop is running for just under three weeks and if it goes into profit, which is looking likely, the performers will be paid. Plus, we’ve invested £4,000 in the show up front to give it the best possible chance of success. We’re going to have a full, specially made set upstairs in the Kings Arms and working Audrey Two models.”

By scheduling Little Shop Of Horrors over in the run-up to Christmas, Baker has ensured that it will be competing with professionally produced pantomimes and Christmas shows. Will it be able to hold its own?

“I’m confident that it will. Little Shop Of Horrors may not be a traditional Christmas show, but it is a crowd-pleaser. It’s a spectacular show with a great story, some interesting sub-text and absolutely fantastic songs.”

Baker is hoping that other fringe theatre-makers will be inspired by his efforts to think bigger when putting on their shows.

“The fringe theatre scene in Manchester and Salford is excellent, but I think it could be even better if there was more ambition. There’s always a place for short runs, script in hand performances and more experimental pieces.”

Little Shop Of Horrors, 3-22 Dec, Kings Arms, Salford 

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Little Shop
Of Horrors

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