Writer: Charlie Sharpe
Director: Selwin Hulme-Teague
“First and foremost, you’ve got the frog.” This one-act play opens more like a stand-up set, as a lone actor grows increasingly frantic while describing the various levels of reality that make up the Muppets universe. As he works himself up describing the show within a show, the actor-director-frog, it’s somehow unbelievably funny. Steve Whitmire (played by Miles Blanch) has just been fired as the voice of Kermit the Frog, and he is handling it poorly.
The big question about a show starring Kermit the Frog is: how long can one man keep the Kermit voice going? It’s an immense strain on the vocal chords. The answer, here, is to add a second actor. Kermit the Frog is divided into two beings – one, ‘the Frog’, is a charming puppet sitting on Steve’s arm which he refuses to remove. Miles Blanch is a talented puppeteer, and while his Kermit voice wobbles occasionally towards the end, he more than makes up for it with the warmth he brings to the character and the comic dynamic he creates between them. It’s hilarious, and it’s clear that the writer (Charlie Sharpe) understands perfectly what people love about the Muppets.
The other ‘Kermit’ is Steve’s flatmate. Painted green, he rails desperately against Steve’s attachment to the frog puppet, describes it as mental illness, and periodically snaps, “Your mouth is moving!” He isn’t Kermit in any meaningful way: he isn’t a frog, and he doesn’t have Kermit’s distinctive voice, or his tact and kindness.
The two men argue relentlessly, in a manner that feels like it’s trying to be capital-t Theatre but ends up just being slightly confusing. They dwell on the death of Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets and the original voice of Kermit the Frog, and the portrayal of Steve’s grief is almost moving. But overall, the production hints at profundity and emotional significance without delivering it. Their argument about whether or not to adapt a ‘Muppets Animal Farm’ is far more watchable. Meanwhile, the real-life drama of Steve Whitmire is left unacknowledged: relatives of Jim Henson accused him of outrageous demands, and refusing to train understudies.
This show is not recommended for children, or for adults who lack a deep and abiding love for the Muppets. But it has its own special charm, and underneath the average play is the premise for a very good comic play or stand-up set.
Runs until 9 July 2022