Norman's horror show

Not many people can claim they have been consumed by the task of becoming a talking, carnivorous plant but Radio Suffolk's Norman Lloyd is just such a man.

By Andrew Clarke

Not many people can claim they have been consumed by the task of becoming a talking, carnivorous plant but Radio Suffolk's Norman Lloyd is just such a man. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to him about his latest venture into the world of amateur dramatics.

Suffolk broadcaster Norman Lloyd has done many things in his career but he's never been a plant before - certainly not a carnivorous plant but there's a first time for everything.

Norman, a former Radio Orwell DJ, and now marketing and promotions manager for Radio Suffolk, is now getting his teeth stuck into being a man-eating plant.

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“It's a tremendous challenge,” laughs Norman; “But I love trying something new. In the original production, the plant was played by Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops, so I've got big shoes to fill. But I am sure I can make our man-eater and distinctive and popular personality in its own right.”

Little Shop of Horrors was the breakthrough show for song-writing team Alan Menken and Howard Ashman who went onto Oscar fame with Disney's The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Little Shop of Horrors was adapted from a 1960s Roger Corman B movie whose sole claim to fame was that it provided Jack Nicholson with his start in movies.

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The play follows the fortunes of shy, nervous, green-fingered Seymour Krelborn and his lonely existence working in a flower shop in Skid Row, New York. The story is told through the eyes and voices of three soul singers Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette, named after 1960s girl groups, who form a strange Greek Chorus commenting on Seymour's sad life and his relationship with his would be girlfriend Audrey.

Seymour's life is turned upside down when he discovers a strange plant which he nurses back to health. But this is no ordinary plant, this plant turns out to be a blood guzzling space creature which gradually takes over Seymour's life.

Norman said: “I suppose on paper the plot sounds a bit dark but in reality it's tremendous fun. It's a lively, fast-paced show with a lot of laughter and some great songs. It really captures the feel of the early 60s when you still had good old fashioned rock'n'roll, the beginning of soul and some of those lovely doo-wop ballads. It's a great mixture of material and very evocative of the period.”

He said that supporting the songs is a very touching and at times hilariously funny tale of one man's battle to establish an identity and carve out a life of his own.

Norman said: “When it was suggested that I try for the role , I have to say that I didn't know the show at all. So I nipped out and borrowed the DVD of the film from the library and thought it was terrific. It was so funny and the songs so good that I knew that I had to be a part of it. Also the plant, Audrey II, was such a strong character that even though the actor who voices him is never seen on stage, it's a lovely part and you are able to put your stamp on the role.

“As everyone probably knows I love using my voice to project different characters - it's all part of being on radio and I still do trails for Radio Suffolk and of course my presentation skills go all the way back to Radio Orwell and the Radio Orwell roadshow which I established in the mid-1970s.

“Rehearsals are great fun because they do allow you to experiment with different ideas and see what works best. I've tried several different approaches and as always a fairly straight approach works best - a sort of heightened reality. You don't want to overdo it too quickly because it gives you nowhere to go. My performance as Audrey II gets bigger and louder as the show goes on and the plant itself grows.”

Norman said that he is sharing the role of Audrey II with Richard Rumbellow, who won't be seen on stage either, but will be inside the plant, thrashing it around and lip synching the mouth to Norman's dialogue. “Richard's great and we have a wonderful working relationship. We manage through a system of monitors and headphones to get the words and the mouth movements happening at the same time.”

The play is being presented by Felixstowe-based amateur drama company StageDoor and will feature such well known local names as Paul Stone as Seymour, Kerri Webster as Audrey and Julie Locke as Mrs Luce.

Norman said that he joined StageDoor last year when a colleague from Radio Suffolk invited him along for auditions to Oklahoma. “I've never done amateur dramatics before but I've always been interested and being involved in broadcasting I wasn't really available for rehearsals. But my work schedule has now changed, my evenings are my own - to some extent - and I can now get involved.

“The rehearsals for Oklahoma with StageDoor were a real eye-opener. I got accepted for the chorus which meant that I had to sing and dance. Now singing is not a problem, I love singing as anyone who comes to see Little Shop of Horrors will find out. But dancing - that's a whole different matter. I am not a dancer, never have been. But the choreographer put me at the back and with the help of fellow cast members I somehow stumbled through the numbers.

“Regardless of my aptitude for dancing I thoroughly enjoyed myself in Oklahoma and knew I wanted to do some more. I love the fact that I sing as the plant because that means I am freed of all the concerns of me having to dance and so can concentrate on putting the song across as Audrey II. It gives me carte blanche to really go for it and sell the song for all I'm worth.”

Norman is rather sad to discover that one of the songs that he was really looking forward to belting out Mean, Green Monster From Outer Space is not actually in the show. “One of the numbers I really enjoyed from the DVD was this Mean Green Monster song, I remember thinking I can't wait to have a crack at that because Levi Stubbs put it over so well, but when I first got to rehearsals imagine my horror when I discovered its not actually in the show. It was a song that Howard Ashman and Alan Menken wrote specifically for the movie version and we are not allowed to do it.”

He added that there was plenty more for audiences to enjoy including Audrey's showstopper Suddenly Seymour and the rocking title track.

As for Norman's own showbiz career before stepping up onto the stage he says that he had always been a show-off, and a life in radio was proof of that. When Radio Orwell was launched in 1975, he applied for a post on the broadcasting staff but was turned down for lack of experience.

“I immediately took myself off to an offshore radio station in Israel to get that experience. It was a fantastic time and I learnt a great deal about presentation and using your voice to sell yourself - allowing your voice to sell your personality to an audience. When I got back to Ipswich I started up The Norman Lloyd Roadshow doing discos in the evenings and weekends. I got a good following and was quite friendly with Andy Archer at the time - who was an incredibly popular DJ with Radio Orwell at the time - and I got him to come down to see me at work, he sat in a guest DJ for a time, and I suggested to him that I team up with Radio Orwell, rebrand my roadshow as the Radio Orwell Roadshow and we go out on the road spreading the Radio Orwell message.

“They went for it and it proved very popular - that led to me taking on the odd holiday cover and eventually my own weekend programme. I remember it was Chris Opperman who gave me my first chance on air with Radio Orwell. I presented Backtracking when Rob Chandler was on holiday. I remember Chris telling me; 'Don't muck it up or you'll never broadcast again,' because Backtracking was incredibly popular. This was a big deal as far as I was concerned but fortunately it went so well that I eventually took over the programme.”

But having had his own show Norman opted for a job in radio sales. “Broadcasting is a young man's game - or at least it was then on a commercial radio station - so I went into radio sales. I was used to selling myself on air so it wasn't a strain to sell the radio station to advertisers - particularly as it was product I believed in.”

He rose to group sales manager for Radio Saxon and Orwell before moving to SGR Colchester and eventually to a London radio staion Soul City as sales director.

He said it was good fortune that he was made redundant there just as the BBC was advertising for staff for the launch of BBC Radio Suffolk and he found the perfect excuse to return to Ipswich and his roots. “It's great to be back home and working for the BBC is fantastic because you don't have to be constantly worrying about chasing sales or hitting advertising targets. The BBC is part of the community - certainly Radio Suffolk is. It's about fitting into the local landscape and reflecting on what is happening out there in and around our wonderful county. I love it. It's also a great organisation to work for because it has a can do attitude. You want to do something, you've got a great idea, the BBC attitude is 'Great go ahead do it.'

At the moment his focus is fully tuned into sharp talking carnivorous plant Audrey II in The Little Shop of Horrors which is the Spa Pavilion, Felixstowe until Saturday. There is a signed performance tonight. Tickets can be booked on 08701 451 151.

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