Audrey II: gone but apparently not forgotten

As I grapple with a supernatural beast (of sorts) for The Mare’s Tale music project, it seems apt if strange to have stumbled upon a blog site previously unknown to me, that has on it a paean to a creature I designed and brought to life on a theatre stage long, long ago. Click HERE and scroll to the bottom of the post to read ‘Bogleech’s’ appreciation of the puppet I dreamt up for the Theatr Clwyd production of Little Shop of Horrors over twenty-five years ago! (Labelled in the post as ‘A mysterious Welsh Audrey II’)

Above: the third-stage Audrey II under construction.

Above: the framework of the puppet when clad with latex skin.

I wasn’t able to leave a comment at the blog, but I sent an e-mail to the blogger to give a little more information that I thought might be of interest. I wrote:

‘Hello. I’m Clive, the designer and director of  the ‘mysterious Welsh Audrey II’!

The full-scale Audrey went into storage in Mold, but I’m quite sure she’s long gone as that was over twenty years ago. We’d hoped to nationally tour the production, which had been a great success at Theatre Clwyd, but financing was not forthcoming. I heard that the model for the ‘expressionist’ set was still knocking around in the carpentry shop ten years later, but no doubt that too has now vanished.

There’s an interesting and rather poignant tale about the first-stage Audrey puppet. It went with the actor Michael Finesilver, who had played Seymour, to live in New York. Ten years later a box arrived by post at my home in Wales. Inside was Audrey looking rather the worse for wear. The latex she was made from was crumbling and her cable-controls had broken. With her was a note that read:

Audrey II has been with me for a long time now, but I fear I can no longer look after her. Time to move on. Please give her a good home. Love Fikey.

Audrey II stayed with me for five or six years, and then came a time when I too had to move on. By then every time I looked at her another piece had fallen off the poor old thing. Finally I called it a day, and she was consigned to landfill.

I’m so touched to find an image and an appreciation of Audrey II on your blog. Thank you for that.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Aberystwyth’

Above: Mike Finesilver as Seymour, with the ‘Audrey’ puppet he later took with him to the USA.

Above: the model of the Little Shop set.

More about the production can be found HERE, HERE and HERE.

I see that I wrote in one of my three Little Shop posts back in 2011 that I was going to make a fourth and last one about the inestimable contribution costume designer Terry Parr made to the production, but somehow I never got around to it. I’ll make good that deficit very soon. I have many photographs of  Terry’s costume work on LSoH. She was an inspiration to me as the director, but more importantly she inspired the cast. Terry was a genius at finding the perfect clothes for characters, and I saw the actors physically change at their wardrobe fittings. It was wonderful to watch.

UPDATE: 18/02/13

Date: 18 February 2013 02:06:42 GMT

From Jonathan at Bogleech.

So glad to hear from you! I’d been sent the photos by someone who only said they were “pretty sure” it was “a Welsh production,” which is as detailed as they seemed able to get. Very happy to have correct info, a name and some links to attach – I’ve already updated the old article, along with a new thought or two. Sad to hear she wound up in the trash after so long, but I know with these things you have to focus on getting props working for the show at hand, rather than lasting forever somewhere. I was invited to a temporary art showing here in Florida where I turned an old toilet into an ugly sculpture that now rots outside, collecting stagnant water. Not an inappropriate fate for it, really, but I’d have tried to keep it pristine if I only had a place to put an entire extra toilet that doesn’t do anything.

Love the paintings on your homepage, and what you’ve shown from the Mare’s Tale doesn’t disappoint! That Mari Lwyd maquette is amazing and looks rather hauntingly more like a painting than a physical object; just the photographs of it could qualify as stand alone art. I didn’t even know much about this tradition, surprisingly considering how much I enjoy reading up on customs big and small from around the world. It’s fascinating how innocent it’s supposed to be but how easily the costumes can cross into nightmare territory, especially for young children who don’t know what’s going on…something that applies to a lot of great traditions, and inspires a lot of great art down the road!

Thanks again for e-mailing!

Date: 18 February 2013 02:44:25 GMT

From Jonathan at Bogleech.

Oh, in addition to my previous response I want to say how much I loved reading the other production posts on Little Shop of Horrors, the unreal and imaginative sets (it’s a pity how many other productions, especially today, aim for bland realism over unique flair) and your design processes. I especially enjoy the connection with Baba Yaga’s hut, and I can see more clearly now that Audrey II had sort of “vestigial” eye areas, really like a baby bird! Do you mind if I add the concept sketch to my old article post? I may also make an entry on my main blog about the update and your site.

I wish the very best of luck for your new endeavors, and the kind of long lasting attention your hard work really deserves!

8 thoughts on “Audrey II: gone but apparently not forgotten

  1. I know I am real late to the party but I was stumbling around the internet looking for inspiration for my Audrey-II that I’m building and just seeing this stupendous puppet makes me wish that there were far more pictures taken and that it was actually videoed. I would love to know where this puppet might be and that the proper care is being used to keep it intact, but alas, it might be in some warehouse or dump just rotting away.

  2. Pingback: “Down on Skid Row” and Evaluation of initial aims of the project | Staging the Action

  3. I already liked your “Little Shop” puppet and pictures, and this exchange is lovely–people use the internet to do many silly and bad things, but it also can be quite wonderful. As it is here…

    • It was a sweet experience to come upon such an appreciation so long after the event, and from a source clearly au fait with the genre, which means the admiration is both informed and heartfelt.

      The thing about theatre is that it’s so fragile. Here and then gone. It’s why I now paint. A painting at least gets a chance of survival. So does a play. But an unrecorded performance can only live in the moment, and in the memories of those who witnessed it.

  4. That’s amazing! How on earth did you stumble on this one of what must be millions of blogs floating around in cyberspace? It’s so wierd seeing the past like this!

    • Liz, I noticed on my WordPress stats page that there were lots of hits coming in for the ‘Little Shop’ posts made back in 2011, so I just checked out where they might be coming from and saw one of my photographs on the ‘Bogleech’ site. It took just moments to trace it!

      The Internet is an extraordinary place. Who would’ve thought images from my Theatre Clwyd production would still have the power to draw the eye all these years on? So many advances have been made in the field of large-scale puppet fabrication, and I would have thought my stuff looked very old hat now. So it was heartening to read that the blogger thought the design had such merit. The puppet was wonderfully manipulated by Marie Phillips… who I’d known since we were children at the Italia Conti School… and voiced by the incredible Paul Kissaun, who sounded like Paul Robeson!

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