*I was gifted complimentary tickets for Avenue Q from The Alexandra Theatre in exchange for an honest review*
Avenue Q has been on my theatre hitlist for a while. For those unfamiliar with the show, think Sesame Street and the Muppets. And then give those cute, fuzzy puppets an extensive vocabulary of rude words, a proclivity for internet porn and a sex life. This is one puppet show that is most definitely not for kids.
Created by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, Avenue Q first hit the stage in 2003 and has been a global smash hit ever since. The show follows the characters that are the residents of the eponymous street. Princeton is our optimistic protagonist, a 22 year old graduate trying to discover his purpose in the Big Apple. In a multicultural neighbourhood of humans, puppet people and puppet monsters, Princeton is embarking on a journey of discovery. As with all good journeys, Princeton encounters a whole bunch of weird and wonderful characters, including the naive and warm-hearted Kate Monster. If you’re going to learn life lessons, then you may as well do it through the medium of ridiculously catchy and exceedingly outrageous songs.
Initially it seems a bit strange that the puppeteers are unconcealed on stage. Soon though all the focus is on the puppet characters as they bring the story to life. Yet one cannot ignore the skill and talent of the human cast as they manipulate their fuzzy charges with aplomb, and provide two facets to the same character.
Lawrence Smith impresses as both Princeton and Rod, his enthusiasm and energy channeled into two engaging and charming characters. Tom Steedon shows incredible versatility as Nicky/Trekkie Monster/one of the Bad Idea Bears. His three characters have very separate entities and he switches with ease from high-pitched to gruff.
Cecily Redman though is positively magnetic as girl-next-door love interest Kate Monster, and as temptress Lucy the Slut. She seamlessly switches between personas and has great chemistry with Lawrence Smith. ‘There’s A Fine, Fine Line’ is a definite highlight of the show.
The potty-mouthed score shocks and delights the audience in equal measures. Clear crowd favourites include ‘The Internet is For Porn’, ‘You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love)’ and ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’. All astute social observations. Other songs which I have been inappropriately humming at work today include ‘If You Were Gay’, ‘It Sucks To Be Me’ and most embarrassingly, ‘I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today’.
(Note to my workmates. I am definitely, 100% wearing underwear today. And every other day.)
Directed and choreographed by Cressida Carré, the songs and characters shine, and the rapport between puppet and puppeteer only adds to the quality of the performance. It’s a simple but highly effective set, with the facades of the apartment buildings providing a backdrop, with the iconic New York skyline behind. There’s a nice contrast between the bright lights of the big city, and the warm homeliness of Avenue Q thanks to the skills of lighting designer Charlie Morgan Jones. And of course, you can’t review Avenue Q without mentioning the cute and cuddly puppets, fantastically designed by Paul Jomain.
It’s an amazing ensemble performance from a cast of just 11 performers in total, and the shows flows extremely well at all points. My only criticism is that the music is sometimes a little too loud and drowns out the lyrics in some numbers.
The show takes some of the biggest issues in society – many still as relevant today as when it first premiered 16 years ago – and displays them in a colourful and tuneful world. Albeit a world where fluffy puppets discuss racism, sex, pornography and suicide. It somehow seems less offensive this way.
Avenue Q is crude and vulgar, but also surprisingly emotional. It’s brilliant fun, and if you miss out then it really will ‘suck to be you’!
Avenue Q is at the Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 16th February. It then tours the UK until the end of July. Tickets can be purchased here.
*All production photos are by Matt Martin and are used with permission of the promoters and the Alexandra Theatre