Little Shop of Horrors | Live Live Cinema

June, 2015 | Milton Court, London

Theatre/Cinema events are becoming very common now and ranging in style though not often depth. In the last two years alone I’ve seen Cinematic Theatre in the hyper-detailed Shaubühne piece Frauline Julie, Kiss and Cry (a film-and-puppetry drama made with fingers,) Paper Cinema’s Odyssey with live music and drawing with object manipulation, Petruska, a collaboration of American company Giants Are Small and the New York Philharmonic, which had puppeteers moving around with different set-pieces and previous filmed scenes projected with live-feed like a cinema while the Orchestra played along (in both senses; internationally renowned conductor Alan Gilbert was dressed up at Magician, too.) I’ve seen Neil Gaiman reading one of his short stories alongside a quartet and projected illustrations (by Graphic Novel hero Eddy Campbell,) fringe companies recreating entire films in tiny theatres with minimal props, inviting the audience to use their imagination to fill the gaps, The Film Beasts of the Southern Wild with accompanying orchestra. Secret Cinema has evolved from the early ‘promenade cinema’ concept into a full-on immersive experience, not only being a cinema event but also making the audiences experience the events in the film, too (although I have never fancied paying £50 to have underpaid and oft’ exploited actors smile through gimmicky budget-consuming action sequences and excessive sets… it’s not even ‘Secret’ anymore, as they can generate hipster interest by announcing the retro film that’s billed as opposed to the revealing it after audiences go through the whole immersive ordeal. Maybe it has to be experienced to believe, though… I digress…)

…Live Live Cinema have not innovated, but rather filled the space between an actual film in a cinema and creating a film on the stage with a live-feed. It’s a simple trick and it works nicely (as far as everything else has) in that instead of creating a film you simply play a film on mute and re-dub it with new music. Little Shop of Horrors is a cult B-movie made with recycled sets of other B-movie films and was, incredibly, filmed over two days. It’s a simple plot where a group of zany characters get involved with a super venus fly-trap plant that has a taste for human flesh. Its quirkiness makes it ideal for a high-energy live-construction/reconstruction.

Firstly, Leon Radojkovic composed a new score that the four performers had to time perfectly to the film. Secondly, the same performers had to take on characters, learn all their lines and lip-sync through to the end, a highly entertaining challenge. Thirdly, they had to negotiate a very busy stage full of props, instruments and gimmicks to create the sound effects. It worked because the audience are treated to the exposed workings of piece. It’s exciting to watch performers anticipate the next move/sound and everyone is in on the gag, or preparing for the next gag, or unaware that the gag is about to happen at all. Either way, the audience are much more involved with the process.

This set-up creates inherent support for the performers, a bit like genius clown play: the audience either anticipate the action or are surprised by it but it’s almost always satisfying when it’s executed as the company become more and more imaginative. They seemingly indulged in the silliest of suggestions such as an angle grinder spraying sparks across the set while the sadistic on-film dentist drills away in someone’s mouth.

It was most successful when the performers started breaking the established structure. The little bell hanging just over their heads is struck every time the shop door opened, but then it’s raised just out of reach and the performer starts grabbing long items and props to get it. The players often have to give each other props and prepare stations for each other, but then they start withholding these objects and adding pressure to the task. Whatever happens the company keep the situation as a joke, like when one performer forgot his lines and desperately tried to keep up with the lip-syncing. It broke the spell but the others acknowledged it, laughed and patted his shoulder. This kept the piece relaxed against the hyperactive task of keeping it going.

The only issue I had was when it was accidently mistimed due to lack of precision. In this type of performance the structure needs to remain solid before you shake it up in the ways I just mentioned. For example, whenever characters walked about the performers bizarrely just stomped their feet and it was messy. The metal bin was kicked about and was heard a few seconds too long. Anything a few seconds too long should be tidied. In the already challenging task of keeping everything perfect, you can’t allow for slack action and audio. Get the footsteps spot-on and THEN mess it up (case in point, the doorbell being out of reach.)

The show is a good laugh and the concept is positive for live performance as well as being a tribute to old quirky movies, the music was original and the general effect was successful.

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