Monday 3rd July 2006
By Philip Ellwood
If I told you that the best thing I'd seen at the theatre so far this year was a politically incorrect view of modern-day life told through swearing, singing puppets would you believe me? Probably not. In fact you'd probably think I was losing the plot. Well folks I am making that statement about 'Avenue Q'. The play follows Princeton (Jon Robyns) as he moves into the rather run-down neighbourhood Avenue Q in New York City. Fresh from achieveing a BA in English, Princeton has his sights set on big things. As a romance with one of his neighbours, Kate Moster (Julie Atherton), begins to blossom Princeton begins to question his purpose in life. Should he follow his heart or find his purpose?
'Avenue Q' is the most bizarre and original play I've seen in a long time. The play is like Sesame Street crossed with South Park and mixed with a Broadway musical. The use of puppets on stage is interesting and very effective. Each puppet is controlled by an actor and the audience always sees the actor on the stage with the puppet on their arm. This isn't as distracting as you may think. Once the play has been on for about 10 minutes you don't really notice the actors. Even when you do, they are so into the character they are playing and they mimic everything they are doing with the puppet in their own facial expressions. The majority of the actors control at least two puppets, which can be interesting when both of their puppets are on stage at the same time. The cast does a remarkable job. Julie Atheron is amazing as the nerdy, quietly spoken Kate Monster and astounds when she switches into her own characters rival Lucy The Slut. There is one particular scene where Lucy the Slut is performing in a bar and Atherton has to sing and dance whilst still controlling the puppet. Her performance is incredible. She has so much energy and manages to ooze sex appeal through the puppet on her arm.
The actors as a whole do an incredible job. Aside from 3 actors, they all have to control puppets, dance and sing (usually all at the same time). The musical numbers come thick and fast once the play begins. Highlights include 'Everyone's A Little Bit Racist', 'The Internet (Is For Porn)' and 'Fine Line'. All of the actors have strong voices and the way they can sing as different characters is impressive. Julie Atherton is meek and cute as Kate Monster and brashy and loud as Lucy The Slut. Special mention should go to Simon Lipkin who plays Trekkie The Monster (alongside several others). How he can sing in such a gruff, throaty voice and not damage his vocal chords is incredible.
'Avenue Q' runs for 2 hours and doesn't outstay it's welcome. The play is frequently hilarious - I haven't laughed so much in ages - and pushes the boundaries ever so slightly at times. I could explain exactly why but it would only ruin for anybody wanting to see it. The use of video screens is interesting and reinforces the Sesame Street feel of the production. I can't imagine how anyone can see this production and walk way with a bad word to say. Fantastic adult fun!