ComedyMusicalNorth WestPuppetryReview

Avenue Q – Palace Theatre, Manchester

Book: Jeff Whitty

Music/Lyrics:Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx

Director: Cressida Carre

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

When you see that the late Gary Coleman is among the list of characters for Avenue Q: the only certainty is, you can expect the unexpected. With an advertising poster clearly resembling a kid’s TV show, this certainly isn’t a show for kids; however it certainly speaks to the child in all of us.

When you’re ready to start out in life, you are filled with hopes, dreams and ambition: you also have no money and a degree which isn’t worth the scroll it’s printed on. Where do you go to start your journey? Well, the place for you is Avenue Q. Princeton is fresh out of university, armed with a degree in English a BA (Hons) no less, he is ready to take on the world. He arrives on Avenue Q, looking to find his purpose in life, however, what he finds is friendship, love and a few lessons in life.

Jeff Whitty’s script has taken the world of Sesame Street stuck it through a meat grinder and what has come out the other end is a witty, fun script which manages to give a fresh take on some of the pit-falls and obstacles life throws our way. There is the right blend of sentimentality and near-the-knuckle humour through songs by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marxthat include: Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, The Internet is for Porn, and There is Life Outside Your Apartment

The ensemble cast is superb. There is a mixture of puppets attached to humans and human characters, which never seem out of place. Sarah Harlington is outstanding in her duel role of Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut, crisscrossing seamlessly from upbeat optimistic heroine to vamp-tramp Lucy. Her on-stage chemistry with Richard Lowe, as the kind-hearted Princeton, is a treat to see. Lowe also pulls double duty as he also plays uptight Rod’ struggling to deal with his sexuality.

There is also excellent support from Stephen Arden and Jessica Parker, who breathe life into a plethora of furry creature characters which include Trekkie Monsters and my own personal favorite the Bad Idea Bears. It’s not just the exceptionally talented puppeteers and actors who deserve praise, but the human characters are exceptional as well. Etisyal Philip, is on top form as Gary Coleman and brings energy and a great deal of fun to the role. Richard Morse and Arina II, are equally impressive as an engaged couple Brian and his Asian American partner, Christmas Eve. Arina II, virtually steals every scene that she’s in which is high praise indeed considering she is up against a troop of cuddly characters.

Director Cressida Carre has done a tremendous job with the production, and has certainly put her own stamp on the script. Her Avenue Q seems bolder and far more daring than previous productions. A spot of puppet on puppet bedroom gymnastics will live on long in the memory. The production touches on race and sexuality, is never crude, lewd or insensitive about these subjects. It plays on our own prejudices and how we see the world, and genuinely has something to say, and if that can be done with a sly wit and song in its heart then I’m all for it. Special mention to the video screen cartoons used throughout the production which are hilarious and glorious nod to Sesame Street and certainly end a sweet yet anarchic touch to the production.

Avenue Q is a loud, in-your-face production, which wears its heart on its sleeve. So, leave your cares and troubles at the door and take a stroll down Avenue Q… if this is where life starts out then I’m all in!

Runs until 7th May | Image: Matt Martin

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