Lotte Wakeham, the Octagon’s artistic director, can’t wait to say it with flowers when audiences head to Bolton from next week for her production of the musical Little Shop of Horrors.

The rock and roll musical about a timid flower shop owner who comes across a mysterious plant with an unhealthy appetite has become one of the most popular shows for amateur companies to perform. But this will be the first time it has ever been staged at the Octagon.

The Bolton News: Janna May, Zweyla Mitchell Dos Santos, Oliver Mawdsley and Chardai Shaw in Little Shop of Horrors                                                          (Picture: Pamela Raith)

“It’s one of the all time great musicals but we haven’t been able to do it before now because the professional rights haven’t been available,” said Lotte, who is directing the show.

“They finally became available this year and we leapt at the chance to do it. It is so funny; it’s a real bulletproof musical as every song is a hit, there are loads of jokes which are really funny and really land and it also has this dark, slightly subversive plot to it too so there is something for everyone.”

Given that it has become something of a staple for amateur groups, does that present any additional challenges to a professional production?

“I actually think there is something nice about it having that real familiarity with many people,” said Lotte. “There are so many brilliant am dram groups here in Bolton and beyond and I hope that they all come and see it. I’d love to hear their thoughts because there are so many different ways of doing it.”

At the centre of the show is the killer plant.

“I don’t want to give too much away,” said Lotte, “but we will have four different iterations of the plant during the show. In rehearsal while the largest version was still being built we worked with a skeleton of it and even that was impressive - if a little terrifying.”

Little Shop of Horrors is a big ask for the cast combining puppetry, choreography and music.

“One of the things about this production which is a bit different from any other production I’ve seen is that we are using actor musicians,” said Lotte.

“I’ve worked on a lot of actor musician shows over the years and always loved doing them. But in particular last summer we put on The Blonde Bombshells of 1943 featuring an almost all-female band. We had such great feedback from audiences about that, in particular that they loved seeing women playing instruments on stage.

“That unlocked something for me about Little Shop and I began to wonder maybe how brilliant would it be to have these three urchin girls, who effectively act as narrators, play a lot of the music.

“So really we’re responding to our audiences saying they loved actors playing musical instruments live in front of then. I think it adds a whole new element to watching the show.”

The Bolton News: Lotte Wakeham (above) and (left) Andrew Whitehead and Oliver Mawdsley in Little Shop of Horrors
                       (Picture: Pamela Raith)

Set in New York’s Skid Row, the cast researched the period. The three urchin girls are named Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette after girl groups of the Sixties.

“There are so many strands to bring together which means it’s been such a joy to direct,” said Lotte. “And the result is fun, family-friendly show. It is a really great night out because of the live music, the storytelling, the puppetry and the choreography.”

Lotte believes that the intimate surroundings of the Octagon will add a different dimension to the show.

“If people are more used to seeing big musicals in Manchester, they are great venues but the audience can be a long way from the action,” she said. “People are surprised at how close and how intimate the Octagon is and that’s what I love about making shows here - the fact the audience are such a huge part of it, right there in the action with the actors.”

She also believes Little Shop of Horrors may be the show which persuades newcomers to the theatre.

“I think that due to the pandemic a lot of people got out of the habit of coming to the theatre but I’m hoping they may be tempted by this,” said Lotte. “I think the show will appeal to a younger audience too. They might have been part of a school production or seen the film version and hopefully they will be excited to see this version on stage.”

The cast includes a number of performers who have been to the Octagon before including is Matthew Ganley who was in One Man, Two Guvnors and Andrew Whitehead from The Book Thief.

The Bolton News: Octagon artistic director Lotte Wakeham and chief executive Roddy Gauld 
                                                                                                                   (Picture: Nathan Chandler)

“This is a particularly talented company,” said Lotte, “they are just sensational. We are so lucky to have such a great talent pool to call on and you get to appreciate the versatility of the actors.

“It’s nice for audiences too to see a few familiar faces in different roles.”

One familiar face on stage however won’t be Lotte herself.

Over Christmas she was forced to take to the stage playing 11 different parts in the festive production of Around the World in 80 Days after illness hit the cast.

“I am categorically not looking to repeat my emergency performance,” she laughed. “That was a one-off. It’s not often as a director you get to go on to the stage but it’s a great way to remind you how brilliant our actors are.”

Little Shop of Horrors, Octagon Theatre, Bolton, Wednesday, April 24 to Saturday, May 18. Details from