Book: Jeff Whitty
Music/Lyrics:Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Director: Cressida Carré
What do you do with a BA in English? If you’re the Sell a Door Theatre Company, sing about it! And about love, purpose, repression, dreams, discrimination and the intimate doings of puppets.
Avenue Q is, above and before all else, hilarious. Living on the eponymous cramped and crowded avenue, the characters weave in and out of one another’s lives, their stories colliding and causing ripples of hilarious disaster as they all tumble toward their equally calamitous futures. Both the puppet characters and their human co-stars and co-ordinators are cartoonishly expressive, and their equally over-the-top emoting is combined with truly brilliant moments of physical comedy. While it can be a little confusing knowing who to watch at times, as the involvement of two fully human characters among the puppets occasionally leads to an instinctive search for human faces, the actors do a stunning job of keeping the attention where it needs to be amid the manic energy of the show’s seemingly endless stream of short, catchy songs.
The songs themselves, and the verbal humour expressed through them, are clearly the focal point of the show. Prior to attending the performance itself, some audience members may already be familiar with If You Were Gay, or I’m Not Wearing Underwear from their out-of-context ubiquity on the internet. Such unwitting familiarity is fitting, for Avenue Q feels very much the product of a certain demographic, that of the world-weary disillusioned late 90s/millennial who has been raised to believe they were special, and arrive in adulthood knowing full well they were lied to. For individuals of this particular group, the discussions of contemporary issues of race, sexuality, self-direction and making one’s way in a disastrous economy will be as true as they are tragically funny.
However, while Avenue Q makes a valiant effort to reach for moments of emotional sincerity, it has done its job too well to entirely lend credibility to its sobriety – especially as the multi-coloured, Muppet-esque design of the puppets does so well at distancing them from any sort of emotional reality that we can laugh even at an occasional dive into some truly dark and explicit material. The age restriction of 14+ is most certainly warranted – though more for these moments of occasional existential blackness than for the much-touted puppet nudity (the blessedly absent genitalia of the aforementioned notwithstanding).
Occasionally, one feels that a scene or joke was made simply for the purpose of being risqué rather than to further the story or plot in any way, but these incidents are small and easily overlooked. The general archness and lack of depth to the characters is similarly irrelevant to the audience’s enjoyment, as their personal stories are less important than the greater story of the show itself.
Avenue Q is smart, stylish, and polished to within an inch of its life. But, more importantly, it is also a warm and loving tribute to a very specific moment in its own cultural present, utterly immersing itself in the moment with no concern for timelessness or self-preservation. Every laugh is well-earned, and every ticket purchased will be a night well spent.
Runs until 4 June 2016 | Image: Matt Martin