Written by Jonathan Wojcik
October 19: The Many Faces of Audrey II
Little Shop of Horrors began in 1960 as a low budget comedy horror film best known for its talking, flesh-eating monster plant, Audrey II. The dark story and quirky characters eventually attracted the attention of Broadway for what is now one of the most famous and beloved musicals of all time, inevitably performed by just about every school theater group at some point in time.
Bogleech forum poster and excellent artist John Pesando started a great topic back in 2010 on how different productions have tackled the design and performance of Audrey II, including video links and a lot of detailed information. You really ought to check it out for yourself at the previous link, but for this special Halloween update I feel like going over some of my personal favorites!
This Audrey II closely follows the traditional green "pod mouth" design that has become so iconic to monster plants in general, but something about the shaggy body and thick "arms" gives it an even more animal-like, reptilian appearance. Subtle, but quite intimidating.
This big-budget Audrey II from the official London show is at least as lifelike as the traditional American prop, but took a much different route with what I find to be a more interesting result, opting more for the look of a pitcher plant than the mutant fly-trap we're accustomed to.
This comical monster looks the least plant-like of any Audrey II I've seen, but certainly plant-like enough. It's not as if all the world's vegetation is made up of only leaves and vines, after all. As John pointed out, it's not entirely unlike an Otyugh from Dungeons and Dragons with its towering heap of a body and whimsical googly eyeballs. I like the simple roundness of its more plantlike immature stage, and the transition in form is pretty cool. Watch it sing!
This unusual Audrey II is one of the few that doesn't actually eat with its mouth. Its central purple flower does the talking and singing, but it feeds through its writhing central mass of vines, pulling and absorbing prey straight into its root system!
This design is unusual even for the general trope of predatory plant monsters, a big bushy pile of autumn-colored leaves with lips, overall almost pumpkinlike and very festive right about now. I especially love the squishy way the puppet bounces, making it very lively and interesting to watch as it sings.
My god, this is magnificent. The internet yields no video footage for this beauty, but I've seldom seen a monster plant so memorably disturbing. Its pale coloration, rotten lichen-like texturing and spindly limbs are unearthly enough to leave the pestilent manifestations of Silent Hill brown with envy; it's something straight out of a dream, reminding me at once of a carnivorous seed pod, some blind, subterranean amphibian and the moldering remains of a plucked chicken!
In its immature form, this Audrey began in the slightly more familiar potted plant stage, albeit with a sickly, fleshy appearance similar in many respects to various parasitic plants and carrion-mimicking flowers.
Trading in her pot and roots, Twoey's final form, or at least the final form the audience sees, was conceived as a plant adapting into a more active and effective hunter, with blunt, flapping claws and vestigial eye-like pits. This form apparently sniffed around, mole-like, until locating prey, and did a happy little "dance" upon devouring a fresh victim!
With its equally haunting set design, this ambitious production was the brainchild of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who provided me more background information after coming upon this very post! On conceptualizing and designing the plant, he even mentions Baba Yaga's hut and the words "Shark-like crab/louse," exactly the kind of language I like to hear when we're talking puppets. Sadly, this radical interpretation ran only briefly, thousands of miles from my home while I was only a young child, and no known video footage seems to have survived. If I could only travel back in time and see this production, just once, I get the feeling I wouldn't need any other version.
What you and I can experience, at least, are the memories its creator vividly shares here, here and here! If you like what you've seen so far, take some time to browse the rest of his art log and check out his other contributions to theater; you won't be disappointed.
Browse Halloween 2011: