Little Shop of Horrors is open for business, behind the scenes of the Seagull Theatre musical
- Credit: Archant
Staging The Seagull Theatre’s first musical in God knows how long has been scary confesses manager Karen Read. But it was a risk she was passionate about taking. Kismet, it seems, agreed.
“Musicals are my first love, much more than straight plays. If I set myself one challenge when I took on the job it’s that I wanted to do a musical, it was going to happen. I just didn’t know how. I went to the directors and said ‘can I do it’ because for the whole year I’ve been here I’ve done no guarantees, no minimum guarantees, I’ve not risked any money to the theatre because it wasn’t in a good enough position a year ago to dare do anything like that.
“They agreed if we’re going to be known for doing musicals and doing them well we’ve got to do it properly; therefore the money’s got to be spent, so for the first time I’ve paid up front for something and I’m terrified.”
Key was picking the right show, the right team and the right cast.
The show is Little Shop of Horrors, the rock horror cum comedy about weedy florist assistant Seymour, whose dream of escaping Skid Row with the girl of his dreams Audrey gets closer when he finds a very special plant.
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“We had to go for a safe one, we’ve got to prove ourselves because we haven’t done a musical here for I don’t know how long,” says Karen “We also had to go for one that’s going to work in our space.”
The team includes musical directors Francesca Warren and Rebecca George-Broom.
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“They’re sisters. I know Rebecca from being the head of music at my children’s high school, she’d musically directed five musicals I’d been involved with as a parent. Francesca is musical director for the Lowestoft Players. I knew they were amazing, what I didn’t know was whether I could get them. One was on maternity leave, the other decided to take a gap year before she went to university,” she says, breaking into a broad grin.
What Karen needed then was an equally amazing director. Enter previous Seagull Theatre manager John Hales. A busy diary resulted in a no when she first asked. A month-and-a-half later, on the verge of widening her search, she asked again.
“My diary had changed, one thing had fallen through and she couldn’t have timed it better.. It was like ‘okay, you’ve just got to listen to the network’,” remembers John, bristling with excitement at taking on a challenge of this size.
“It’s huge but it’s the perfect fit; it has that quirkiness and it’s a venue you can take risks with. It’s such a powerful show but compact as well; people are going to feel it and of course we’re using all the space and we’ve got stuff going on near the audience, all of it. The thing about the Seagull was it was about doing something different, pushing the envelope and saying ‘look what you can achieve if people really go for it’.”
Everybody’s done that, with the Seagull Rep’s trademark touches present from the moment you walk into the foyer. If you want to find out more you’ll have to buy a ticket.
The last pieces of the puzzle were Seymour and Audrey. If you don’t buy what John calls their “wonderful losers love story” it’s game over.
“What’s lovely is when you break it down they have this extraordinary little romance to the point where even though he’s breaking down he wants to protect her. When Seymour changes and you see the hero come out in him and Audrey start to trust him... It’s tragic when it goes wrong.”
Playing Seymour is John Jones. It’s his first apperance with the Seagull Rep and his first lead role in a musical. It’s a challenging part. Seymour’s intentions are good but his actions questionable. His crimes are ones of ommission, while he doesn’t kill anybody himself to feed Audrey II he doesn’t save them either.
“It’s a nice journey, he never thinks he’s going to get Audrey, then this amazing opportunity happens and he gets lured by the plant. What I’m doing is horrific but I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t because I’ll lose everything,” says John J, who walked into auditions out of nowhere after spotting a notice online.
“It’s Doctor Faustus,” adds John H. “It’s that temptation. (The song) Skid Row says it all ‘I’ve got to get out of here’ and of course Faustus does exactly what he needs to succeed. If you want to get really highbrow you go well Seymour’s forced into it by the socio-economical whatever.”
“You’ve just got a director’s lovely overview of it, I just love the music, the songs. It’s one of my favourite musicals,” laughs Karen.
Skid Row - which, adds John H, was the cast and crew’s favourite to sing along to during rehearsals - has been a staple on Michelle Long’s iPad since 2002. “No matter when I listen to it I get goosebumps, every single time and you’d think after 14 years it won’t affect you the same way,” says Michelle, playing Audrey; inspired to become a professional actress after first setting foot in the Seagull 20 years ago when she joined its youth theatre, run by John H. “I absolutely love this show.”
John and Karen have been floored not only by the luck they’ve had but by everybody’s enthusiasm, talent and generosity. It’s a show, an experience, people will remember.
“It’s that thing where sometimes the best thing a director can do is just leave people alone and say ‘right, okay do that’. Seeing your faces as it started to come together in the auditions,” says John H, looking at everybody else. “Seeing Karen beaming like the Joker and then crying, ‘Schelle and John singing Suddenly Seymour...”
“When I realised we’ve got a cast here and it’s actually going to happen... You’ve got a lot of people, like me, who’ve been involved with The Seagull Theatre off and on (for so many years) and that’s why we come back because it’s in our hearts,” says Karen. “When it closed it was so heartbreaking; it’s its own little triumph over adversity story and it’s very exciting to be doing Little Shop of Horrors. I think it’s sending it into a whole new direction.”
Little Shop of Horrors runs April 5-9.