Avenue Q: Review at New Wimbledon Theatre
Avenue Q on UK Tour
Avenue Q has been described as irreverent, funny and crude. It is all of these and more, shaped very much by a crowd-pleasing set of songs in the first half and a subversive element that tackles big issues with politically incorrect joy.
The show has been touring the UK and the first night at New Wimbledon Theatre had all the energy you would hope for. The great strength of the production is the seamless interaction of human actors and puppets against the backdrop of a New York suburb. It would be easy to use Sesame Street as a reference point, but the harder edge of street life is tackled with a revelry that relies on the puppets becoming almost human in their hopes and fears.
Main Characters in Avenue Q
The sheer tenacity of the actors in getting under the skin of their furry friends is truly remarkable. Sarah Harlington plays the sweet-natured Kate Monster and man-eating Lucy The Slut with elan while Richard Lowe literally carries main protagonist Princeton, who wonders how he can tackle the world with a degree in English. The real thrust of the early speaking part of the show is provided by Arina II as Christmas Eve, a Japanese therapist who has no clients and tells her live-in partner Brian, a tubby short-wearing thirtysomething dreamer, to "go get job".
Classic Songs Elevate Avenue Q
The songs are deliciously fun and tackle all the negatives that your parents forgot to tell you about. "It Sucks to be Me", "If You Were Gay" and the yearning for simpler times in "I Wish I could Go Back to College" are instantly memorable. What really works is "Everybody's a Little Bit Racist" with stereotypical glee being passed around and digested by each character in such a way that it is inoffensive. The only real weak link in the chain is the Gary Coleman character, the former black child star turned superintendent. His presence (played by a woman Esisyai Philip) almost seems tokenistic.
Trekkie Monster and Bad Idea Bears
That is the whole point of Avenue Q. The puppets can pretty much get away with anything. And they do. This includes a sex scene that leaves little to the imagination and the more base needs of a Trekkie Monster, who is like a rougher version of Cookie Monster, but obsessed with porn rather than biscuits. "The Internet is for Porn" is one number that simply has to be heard. It will not leave the head, for better or for worse. There is also a running commentary on a TV screen relating to life's purpose and a skilful play on words on how our empty selves fall prey to schadenfreude.
The Bad Idea Bears are another masterstroke, acting as the squeaky-voiced high spirited saboteurs in the relationship between Princeton and Kate Monster. Their incessant cuddly banter is a comedy high point but they work like a pair of sinister Ewoks
Avenue Q essentially muses on life's difficulties but also its possibilities. The message is: "Big Bird won't be there to help you through your adulthood. You have to figure that out for yourself." Then again, everything in life is only transient and"only for now". The delivery of the message can sometimes push the envelope for the more traditional theatre goer, but there is enough margin for any crudity to be taken in good spirit. Just don't make the mistake of taking your kids.