Out of the mouths of . . . puppets

Avenue Q

The Grand, Wolverhampton

*****

EVERYBODY likes a good puppet, from Muffin the Mule to Gordon the Gopher to the legends that are The Muppets and Sesame Street.

We like them when we are young because they are magical and alive and a guide through the early years of life, shaping our thoughts on morals and how to be an all round good egg.

We like them when we are older because they remind us of simpler times, when we weren't worried by the economy or getting up for work in the morning or whether that really is a white hair we think we can see in the mirror, if only our eyes were better we could be sure. Yes everybody likes puppets.

So it is apt in this time of seemingly constant worldwide unrest that with the arrival of the cast of Avenue Q, we have a new set of puppets to guide us through the important issues of life.

The show has definite parallels with Sesame Street, the set for the most part comprising of the Avenue after which the piece takes its name, and any puppetry piece will forever be compared to the ever present Muppets- who themselves are experiencing something of a resurgence with their new film, though in this case we can see the puppeteers at work.

The show starts by cleverly using a pair of video screens, which serves to immediately demand the attention of the crowd and are used to great effect throughout the show.

HELPING HAND

 There is then the first song, which builds into an excellent ensemble piece, which serves to set the tone for the production as well as introducing nearly all the main characters effectively and quickly.

There is nothing quite so brilliant as hearing a puppet swear, whether its because in our mind it should not, cannot happen or whether it makes us feel like a naughty child who has been let in on a dirty joke I don't know.

All I can tell you is that it elicited utter delight from an audience of a very wide age range. This is the brilliance of the piece, it combines child-like wonder with serious issues such as love, racism and homosexuality all being tackled with skill and style through energetic songs and soft ballads alike.

It is slightly strange to see the puppeteers with the puppets to begin with and yet in many ways this makes the piece all the more impressive as the puppeteers are showing not only great ability in operating the puppets, but also managing to give two performances one as the puppet and one as themselves, both of which are at times sublime.

I realise that I have yet to single out a puppeteer for praise, usually this would be any easy task but on this occasion I can say hand on heart that all the cast were brilliant, from their vocals to their timing, to their ability to make these pieces of cloth come alive and make the audience feel like a kid again.

Having said that special mention can be made for Daniella Gibb and Chris Thatcher who worked as a pair on Trekkie Monster and Nicky. Their timing and movements were seamless both in terms of their operation of the puppets and their combined vocals and stagecraft, which made their performances all the more impressive. 

The non puppeteer cast were also excellent in their interactions with the puppet cast, with stand out songs for each. The use of a live Band was also a huge advantage and really brought the piece to life, together with a brilliantly engaging set.

Before I went to see I show I questioned the 12 + rating. However upon reflection I think that the importance of the messages within the fabric of the show far outweigh the occasional use of adult words and the sight of two fornicating puppets, which was one of many laugh out loud moments.

I have no hesitation in giving this full marks. Its The Muppets with Tourettes and a heart of gold, what's not to love? To 03-03-12.

Christian Clarke

Meanwhile, on the other hand . . .

****

POLITICAL correctness is thrown firmly out of the window by a remarkable mixture of humans and puppets in this hilarious musical.

The tricky subjects of racial prejudice, sex, relationships and homosexuality are tackled in a fearless fashion in the story of neighbours in a rundown, multi-cultural neighbourhood in downtown New York.

It's a warm and humorous show, packed with good music and biting songs, and you would find it difficult to be offended by the antics of the cast of lovable puppets and their friends Gary (Matthew J. Henry), Brian (Edward Judge) and Christmas Eve (Julie Yammanee).

And can you believe it? Puppets Princeton and Kate Monster have sex in a frantic on-stage clinch that has the audience - including many students - howling with laughter at the sheer audacity of it all.

Then there is Rod, clearly gay but not quite sure when to 'come out', even though his pal Nicky and virtually everyone else knows it.

These muppet-like puppets are brilliantly operated and voiced by Sam Lupton, Katherine Moraz, Chris Thatcher and Daniella Gibb. It's all so beautifully done that you hardly notice the actors as the action moves sweetly along.

Avenue Q, with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, is directed by Jason Moore with musical arrangements by Stephen Oremus. To 03.03.12

Paul Marston 

* As we have stated in earlier reviews of the show, Avenue Q is a mythical, multi-racial community somewhere in the outer reaches of New York City in the musical but does actually exist deep in Brooklyn a few blocks from Coney Island and Brighton Beach. Princeton had started off looking for somewhere to live at Avenue A, which is in the East Village in Manhattan and reached Avenue Q before finding properties he thought he could afford.

 

 

 

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