In the 600-odd years since The Queen’s College was founded, its gardens have been missing a certain something. It wasn’t entirely clear what that something was – but on Wednesday night, the mystery was finally solved. Queen’s needed a sassy, singing carnivorous plant. In drag.
In case you’re confused, the annual Queen’s College garden musical, Little Shop of Horrors, opened on Wednesday of third week. Little Shop is a cult classic, no doubt owing to its magical combination of campy horror and a be-bop soundtrack. For the Eglesfield Musical Society – who have not put on a garden musical since 2019 – Little Shop was the perfect choice. As director Ollie Khurshid puts it, “Where else would you perform Little Shop except amongst the plants?”
The story begins in urban Skid Row. Seymour Krelborn (Cormac Diamond), a nebbish orphan, works in Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist alongside the lovely but underconfident Audrey (Eva Bailey). Mushnik (Declan Ryder) announces that the failing florist shop must close its doors, but help arrives in the form of a “strange and interesting plant,” which Seymour has obtained through some shady business dealings. Seymour dubs the plant Audrey II.
Soon, everyone wants to come see Audrey II, and business at Mushnik’s Florist is booming. But there’s a problem – well, a few problems. Seymour is struggling to deal with his sudden success as an “experimental botanist.” Audrey is showing up to work with black eyes, courtesy of her dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello (Alfred Dry). Worst of all, Seymour is getting a little anaemic – because, you see, Audrey II is the sort of plant that drinks blood.
How does Seymour know? Audrey II (Jelani Munroe) told him so.
Putting a giant plant onstage is no easy feat. Chalk this production’s success up to the fantastic puppet design by Khurshid, performance by puppeteer Harry Brook – and, of course, Jelani Munroe, who plays Audrey II upon her mid-show transformation from plant to botanical drag queen. Depicting Audrey II in drag was an inspired choice. Munroe is perfectly pouty, a temptress par excellence, with a steamroller of a singing voice.
Diamond, as Seymour, delivers a nuanced performance, pinned between his love for Audrey and fear of Audrey II. He’s a remarkable vocalist; it’s hard to play Seymour as a good singer while coming across as sufficiently nerdy, which is what Diamond achieves here. Eva Bailey shines as Audrey, her head low and her hopes high, and a soaring voice to boot. She and Diamond are the perfect tag team, working together to carry the emotional load of the play. Dry as Orin Scrivello is sensational, the Marquis de Sade with a dental drill; while Mushnik, played by Ryder, has amazing comedic timing, weird dad energy, and a better New York accent than most New Yorkers.
The show is narrated by a trio of street urchins, in three-part harmony. Crystal (Gabriella Ewulomi) is strong and sweet-voiced. Chiffon (Arya Nagwani) is a miracle ball of energy. And Ronette’s (Maya Sankaran) facial expressions are perhaps the funniest thing in the whole musical, if you can catch them.
The production team deserves commendation for Little Shop’s red-and-green colour palette. Khurshid’s set design is a wonder, from the green drapes to the pyrotechnics, and Phebe McManamon is a graphic designer to watch, judging by the show’s gorgeous programme. The lighting design by Penelope Hilder Jarvis is evocative, especially the use of red and green to correspond with characters’ emotional shifts. And Audrey II’s dress, courtesy of Ollie Khurshid, a fluffy confection of green tulle with a gaping red underskirt, is about as suggestive as you’d imagine. Wrap this all up with a blisteringly talented live band, directed by Isaac Adni, and you have theatrical success.
This Little Shop makes its audience laugh about death. That’s not so hard when the murderer is a sassy, sarcastic, soul-singing plant in drag. When Robert de Eglesfield founded Queen’s College, this may not have been what he had in mind, but I like to think he’d appreciate it.
Little Shop of Horrors continues its run in the Queen’s College Gardens until 14th May. Tickets are available here.