The Muppets Take the O2 – The O2 Arena, London

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

Jim Henson’s furry creations have been around for over sixty years, but they really secured their place in pop culture history in the late 1970s with The Muppet Show, its perfect blend of anarchy, knowing humour and sweet sentimentalism meaning that it was an immediate hit with all ages. Thanks to eight movies, countless other projects and tonnes of merchandising, Kermit and company have remained a constant presence in the public consciousness.

Following a series of live shows at The Hollywood Bowl last year, these iconic puppets return to their spiritual home of the UK (The Muppet Show was filmed at Borehamwood Studios) for their first live appearance outside of the US. Since being announced, this show has been criticized by some for the high ticket prices as well as the choice of venue: the massive O2 perhaps being too cavernous for characters best remembered for performing in a fleapit theatre. So can these concerns be dismissed and can the diminutive characters deliver the goods in a space almost as large as Miss Piggy’s ego? Well, the answer to that is a resounding “of course”!

The familiar theme tune strikes up and a two hour plus version of the original show unfolds. It’s frankly almost unbelievable. All of the classic elements from the show are present: Dr Teeth and The Electric Mayhem Band, Muppet Labs, Pigs in Space with special guest David Tennant appearing in his guise as The Doctor, the Swedish Chef preparing a haggis (by attempting to stuff the stomach of a live sheep!), and Gonzo the Great, well, being Gonzo. The ridiculously catchy Mahna Mahna is recreated, Fozzie Bear tells terrible jokes, the cast stages their version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and Kermit tries to keep calm with the expert help of Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan. One highlight has Charles Dance trying to recite Tennyson with Pepe the King Prawn hijacking the stage for a rave (which Dance gamely ends up joining). Miss Piggy spends most of the show building up her big number and when it eventually comes it’s a cracker, involving intricate choreography that results in the porcine star being repeatedly thrown around the stage. And the Muppets wouldn’t be the Muppets without regular interruptions from the heckling old men Waldorf and Statler, providing some of the biggest laughs of the night: “Has the time difference between London and home affected you?”, “I’ll say! I’ve stayed awake through the whole show!”

The show is expertly put together and performed. Instead of keeping anonymous, the Muppeteers are (sort of) visible on stage for most of the time. Where this could have been a risky choice that may have ruined the magic of the characters, it actually enhances the experience and adds an extra dimension to the performances, which are all absolutely delightful.

Happily the show is not just a straight transfer of last year’s Hollywood version: there are numerous uses of British slang, references to the culture (including a sharp sketch centred around England’s fresh World Cup knockout) and references to local areas, most brilliantly when Rowlf the Dog delivers a rapid patter song of London Tube stations.

The whole thing is rounded off with Kermit, Kylie Minogue and the entire company singing the beautiful Rainbow Connection, before finishing with a rousing rendition of I’ll Get By With a Little Help From My Friends. It’s a fitting end to a project that is so clearly built on such strong teamwork and it’s then nice that the six main Muppeteers get their own bow without their famous co-stars. They certainly deserve the recognition.

Whether you are a die-hard Muppet Fan or only have a passing familiarity with the characters, this reviewer urges you to see this show. It’s most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational … as well as spectacular, magical, hilarious, and sheer perfection. Don’t be a muppet, go see the Muppets!

Runs until 14th July 2018 | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. 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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