Little Shop Of Horrors, Menier Chocolate Factory, London

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The Independent Culture

This show is, basically, all about the plant. Being as it is a staple of the amateur dramatic circuit, the comic appeal of Little Shop of Horrors has always revolved around watching a fat bloke trying to sing, while dressed (unconvincingly) as a speaking Venus flytrap.

On these grounds, helped by some lively, knockabout songs, Alan Menken's off-Broadway hit has acquired "cult musical" status. It is like a botanical Rocky Horror Picture Show: flamboyant, fun, full of foliage.

The plot revolves around a man-eating plant, which turns up in a New York florist. Its discovery, by a shop assistant called Seymour, facilitates a boy-meets-girl story, jazzed up by the plant's appetite for human flesh. Like Rocky Horror, Little Shop has flowered, pardon the pun, on the youth and amateur theatre circuits, also providing the basis for a 1986 film.

Clearly, however, the Menier's bright artistic director, David Babani, reckons it's worthy of better things. He's just brought the show to his cosy South Bank stage, with the aim of replicating the success of last year's Sunday in the Park with George, which managed a decent West End transfer.

In giving Little Shop its first professional production in the capital for two decades, Babani has bunged serious resources into the star of the show: his plant. It's a swanky automated puppet created by a Hollywood special-effects firm. Quite a stonker it turns out to be, too. Audrey 2,with the catch phrase "feed me!", looks like something you'd expect to find dangling from the underside of a thoroughbred. Slickly operated by Andy Heath, with voice provided by Mike McShane, it's a splendid centrepiece. A fake plant can only carry so much on its own, though.

What turns this absurd tale into an enjoyable romp is a series of canny comic vignettes, with songs that include a couple of genuine show-stoppers. As well as some decently executed jokes, there's a cracking turn from Jasper Britton as the villain of the piece. Everyone else does pretty much what's expected of them, and it's all rather jolly. Perhaps the show slips into am-dram territory at times, with the odd moment of unwieldy dialogue, and some dodgy stage-craft when the plant scoffs its victims.

Actually, though, the show has got legs. Right now, the West End needs another slightly camp musical like it needs a hole in the head. But if you fancy a slightly camp musical this Christmas, you probably won't find a better one.

To 25 February (020-7907 7060)

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