ComedyDramaMusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Avenue Q – Sheffield Lyceum

Director/Choreographer: Cressida Carré

Designer: Richard Evans

Musical Director: Dean McDermott

Puppet Designer: Paul Jomain

Reviewer: Janet Jepson

It’s furry, funny, fuzzy, it’s naughty and it’s definitely one to see – welcome to Avenue Q. This is a musical unlike any other seen on stage. A group of extremely talented human performers tread the boards, but hardly anyone notices most of them as the limelight is well and truly stolen by their alter egos – a cast of adorable puppets with wonderful expressions, stylish clothing, great singing voices, and real attitude.

Princeton is a loveable starry-eyed graduate in New York with a dream of finding his ‘purpose in life’, lack of cash is his problem but he’s going to get around that. The only apartment he can find in his price range is in the somewhat seedy Avenue Q (having worked his way down from Avenue A), but he soon discovers that the characters who live there are priceless. He meets Kate Monster, a sweet kindergarten teacher with her own dream of setting up a special school exclusively for monsters; Nicky the workshy lounger with a heart of gold, and his roommate, closet gay Republican Rod; then there’s unemployed comedian Brian who lives with his ‘Oriental’ fiancée Christmas Eve, who’s a questionable therapist; and let’s not even mention the resident porn expert, Trekkie Monster.

Just two of the characters residing in the apartments are ‘themselves’, Oliver Stanley as Brian and Saori Oda playing Christmas Eve, but they interact with the puppet people so well it’s hard to tell the difference. Not all the furries in the cast live on the avenue: Lucy the Slut sashays suggestively in and out (and ultimately down… but that’s an accident… isn’t it?), and the cute but dodgy Bad Idea Bears pop up here and there to knock our heroes off the straight and narrow. The performers operating the puppets – the principle ones being Lawrence Smith, Jasmine Beel (on the evening of the review), Tom Steedon and Megan Armstrong – are totally in sync with their furry appendages. Dressed in black, with hairstyles that mainly reflect their characters’, they mirror the puppets’ expressions and their words do truly appear to issue from furry mouths. With a cast completed by none other than THE former child actor Gary Coleman (aka Nicolas McClean, non-puppet) as building superintendent, it’s a heady mix and the audience soon realises it’s all going to be fun.

These adorable fuzzy little people proceed to throw political correctness out the window along with any inhibitions anyone might have. Home truths such as ‘I’d still like you if you were gay’, ‘everyone’s a little bit racist’, ‘the internet is for porn’, and if we all “stop being so pc, we could live in harmony” are all voiced out loud with actions to match. It’s all a little risqué and naughty – where else would you see full puppet nudity, witness uncensored sex acts performed on stage, meet Mrs Thistletwat, and hear the line “grab your d**k and double-click”? There’s a traditional wedding – well a mix of Jewish and Japanese anyway – with everyone dressed up to the nines, and a near-homicide proving that a penny dropped from the Empire State Building might actually kill … No one could possibly sit through this show without laughing uncontrollably, but at the same time it brings out warm comforting feelings in everyone. These puppets are such firm friends, they all look out for one another and help wherever they can – even to the extent of a whip-round in the audience to help make Kate’s commendable dream come true. Princeton locates his purpose; Rod finds his way out of the closet; Nicky gets his home back; Brian and Christmas Eve find paying work and climb the housing ladder; everyone’s happy; what more could anyone need? The set is a simple row of tatty houses, with dropdown windows which reveal tiny detailed room scenes, right down to flying ducks on the wall; and behind there’s a proper lighted NY skyline, where Kate can dream… despite the bad behaviour, it’s all perfect really.

The show is reminiscent of The Muppets and Sesame Street (with whom it has no connection), but deals with grown-up issues and emotions, all wrapped up in mischievous humour which cute furry folks can get away with. It’s about growing up, following your dreams, and sometimes having to accept what life hands you, but also affirming that it will all be much easier with friends for support along the way. Go see this truly wonderful bit of theatre, it’s an unforgettable experience – just don’t take any little monsters along, and maybe think twice about whether your granny would appreciate the humour. But do go along soon because like sex, hair and Janet Jepson, “it’s only for now”!

Runs until Saturday 3 August 2019 | Image: Matt Martin

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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