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Review: A clever take on Little Shop of Horrors

This year’s Auckland Arts Festival is mostly online thanks to covid, and while some shows had to be cancelled, others have found clever ways of reaching their audience.

A very good example of this is the local production of Little Shop of Horrors. Originally intended to be in a theatre, the action plays out instead in a video split-screen.

The production consists of viewing the 1960 black and white film Little Shop of Horrors, but the entire soundtrack, voices, music, and special effects, are dubbed ‘live’ by a troupe of very experienced kiwi actors and musicians.

You might think this would be a little weird, but it actually works really well. The talent of the artists is extraordinary, and their dexterity is legendary. Lipsynching to a film soundtrack is difficult enough, but these folks do that while playing instruments, and creating effects. At one stage, one of the performers was speaking while also using a pepper grinder to create a noise, and then later was holding a baby in his arms.

Adding to the complication for these actors/musicians is that while each of them was alone in their own homes, the show was being recorded as though it was live. This meant that they had to perform to a camera, while reciting dialogue, playing music, and creating special effects special effects. They were watching out for cues, and interacting with one another as well.

That’s challenging enough in a live venue, but doing it remotely in a kind of theatrical Zoom meeting is nothing short of miraculous. The coordination required by them and the crew behind the scenes to pull this off is inspiring and that in itself makes the show worth seeing..

Unlike the 1986 version, this iteration of the story is not a musical, it’s more frenetic and has fewer sets, and clearly a lower budget. But what it does have is a lot of charm. The kiwi cast provides all of the voices and they match the original on-screen actors very well. It is impressive watching them jump from character to character with apparent ease. That’s not to say there weren’t occasional bloopers, but that simply added to the charm of the entire experience.

Seeing the film on the left of the screen and the local performers to the right may sound confusing, but I found it worked perfectly. Sometimes I was engrossed by the action in the film, and at other times fascinated watching the actors and their complex multitasking.

Little Shop of Horrors is a clever, funny, and glorious experience, and I congratulate everyone involved in bringing it to the small screen.

The show is available to stream online until the 27th March 2022. Click here for more information and tickets.

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