Avenue Q – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Book: Jeff Whitty

Music and Lyrics: Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx

Director: Cressida Carré

Reviewer: Nicole Craft

Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist, right?

If such an idea offends, then Avenue Q might not be the show for you.

With the stage arranged like a children’s TV show’s friendly neighbourhood street, complete with screens to each side of the stage just waiting to be panned across to for cheesy exercises in learning, The Avenue Q Theme tune begins and a series of animations play. It would be easy to think at this stage that Avenue Q is a nice, easy-going, family show, particularly if you’d missed the 14+ age guidance; but as soon as we meet the first of our puppets it’s immediately clear that, although taking inspiration from many – and having Gary Coleman as one of the characters – children are definitely not the intended audience.

Although there’s an underlying story or two to follow, the aim of the game is mostly to make us laugh and take us out of our comfort zones in terms of risqué subject matters such as racism, politics, homophobia and porn to name a few – with the logic that cuddly looking creatures can get away with saying way more than their human counterparts. It certainly does the trick and we soon find ourselves warming to the potty-mouthed puppets

Occasionally a victim of their own success, the puppeteers are almost too good at channelling their character’s emotions at times and, certainly during Act 1, we find ourselves watching them more than the puppets and forcing ourselves to switch our attention. By Act 2, however, embracing this seems key as actor and puppet seem to become one, the actors managing to project their mannerisms onto otherwise expressionless objects.

Cecily Redman is most impressive as both Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, even voicing one while controlling another. If her slick puppetry, fabulously descriptive facial expressions (I’m not sure anyone had ever wondered what face a puppet giving a blow job would make…but she nails it) and superb timing don’t impress enough, she then opens her mouth to sing and completely blows everybody away (no, not like that!).

The rest of the ensemble bring up the rear together in fabulous fashion and all complement each other perfectly. Tom Steedon and Megan Armstrong work in total unison taking an arm each of both Nicky and Trekkie Monster and also make the charmingly menacing Bad Idea Bears seem cutely-innocent, while Lawrence Smith switches between well-meaning but easily impressionable Princeton and closet gay Republican, Rod, so easily it almost goes unnoticed.

Despite a few weaker, unmemorable moments in terms of musical numbers, they do impress for the most part – very much enhanced by the vocal talents of the cast – and a good few are still ringing in the ears on the journey home. A couple of spotlight delays in the first few scenes distract a little but the overall result is more than enough to compensate for any slight shortfalls.

Avenue Q is a ‘Bad Idea Bear’ in itself; like Sesame Street on speed, it channels all the things you wouldn’t admit to thinking out loud, puts a cute and furry spin on them and somehow makes you feel less guilty for finding it funny in the process. There truly is a fine, fine line between comedy and offence but these colourful puppets tread very carefully to ensure they only gently push their non-existent toes across it.

Runs Until 16 February 2019  | Image: Matt Martin

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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