Peter Yates (LondonTheatre1)A show of extraordinary verve, energy and pazazz
On the day that the rather disturbing musings of a certain Liam Neeson made headlines all over the world, it seemed somehow appropriate that I should be sitting in the magnificent (New) Wimbledon Theatre listening to a couple of puppets duet a song called Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist. Avenue Q has launched its latest national tour and judging by the packed audience reaction it’s destined to go down a storm from here to (probably) eternity via Aylesbury and Glasgow (amongst many nationwide locations).
Whilst the Muppet-inspired puppets are cute (’cos this is a puppet show, folks!) their tuneful ditties definitely lean towards the potty-mouth variety with such other gems for our delectation as It Sucks To Be Me, I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today, The Internet Is For Porn and the catchily titled You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love). It’s a show of extraordinary verve, energy and pazazz and the audience revels in its licence-to-shock irreverence. Always difficult to pigeon-hole in terms of genre, the best I can do is describe it as a kids show that is not for kids.
The lead puppeteers – Lawrence Smith, Cecily Redman, Tom Steedon and Megan Armstrong – don’t take the eye because they’re not meant to. They are subservient to the puppet-characters they manipulate and as such show a level of skill that is quite breathtaking to behold. After a while, you forget that they are there as you concentrate on the exploits of their fuzzy charges. One thing I don’t quite get, though, is why there are non-puppet characters (known as humans) mixing it with the puppets. (Don’t @ me though: I’m sure there are a hundred and one different theories for this).
Redman, as one of her two puppet personas Lucy the Slut, takes the cookie for me – her rendition of Special is actually really special and brings the house down.
Designer Richard Evans has done a sterling job with the (presumably easily-dismantlable) set and the New York skyline, complete with Empire State Building, which looms over the down-at-heel Avenue Q residential district, is stunningly effective when edge-lighted with luminosity strips. Charlie Morgan Jones is the Lighting Designer and he generates a nice, homely ambience to contrast with those big city bright lights.
Director and Choreographer is Cressida Carré whose clear and unfussy direction engenders an even balance in the quirky rapport between puppet and human performer. Paul Jomain makes the puppets and his clever fabrications help to fashion an engaging and invigorating show that spreads warmth and naughtiness in equal measure.
Avenue Q was created by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music and lyrics) with the book by Jeff Whitty. Their desire to come up with something “fun and funny” has certainly paid off as it continues to wow audiences since it’s off-Broadway premiere in 2002. Marx neatly sums it up when he says: “I basically make a nice living from having written a bunch of dirty songs for puppets”: and therein you have the guiding ethos behind Avenue Q – the zaniest show in town.