Marlowe Theatre – Canterbury
Avenue Q is famous for being ‘the one with the sweary puppets’ but it’s much more than that.
It tells the story of Princeton, an unemployed graduate who is searching for his purpose in life and who moves to a run-down area – the only place he can afford. He falls in love with neighbour Kate Monster, a kindergarten teacher who wants to open her own school, and makes friends with the various other characters who live on Avenue Q.
The mixture of human and puppet characters is different to almost anything you have experience before. The actors controlling the puppets aren’t hidden from view, in fact they are very much meant to be seen. Watching the actors is just as entertaining as watching the puppets and being able to see their faces gives the rudimentary features of the puppets more life. After a while the two merge together and flicking between actor and puppet becomes second nature – sort of like watching a subtitled film. When the actor smiles, the character on their hand is smiling too.
Don’t expect a marionette masterclass though, or flawless ventriloquism for that matter – for the most part, Avenue Q’s puppetry is the kind of thing you’re able to do at home with an old sock. But it doesn’t matter – the lack of “artful” puppetry is not to the show’s detriment and the style presented here will be familiar to anyone who grew up with The Muppet Show or Sesame Street.
There are characters who are visual parodies of Miss Piggy and Bert and Ernie, while a porn-addicted resident called Trekkie Monster sounds like the Cookie Monster and looks like Animal from The Muppets with a protein powder problem.
The cast are excellent across the board, but Daniella Gibb and Chris Thatcher, who play Trekkie Monster, Nicky and The Bad Ideas Bears, deserve a special mention. Of everyone onstage, they are having the most fun and the way they jump between characters is incredible. Another huge plus-point is the quality of accents. All too often, UK shows
Above all, Avenue Q is seriously funny show. Go prepared for broad, not-particularly-subtle humour, and you won’t be disappointed. Despite the hype, Avenue Q is not as subversive as it would like you to believe. It’s certainly ruder and more cutting than other shows touring at the moment, but fundamentally it’s as risqué as an episode of Friends with a few f-words thrown in. That’s not a criticism, just a reassurance to anyone who may have been put off by the ‘Most Offensive Show Ever’ hyperbole – it’s not Doug Stanhope. And like an American sitcom, beneath the gags there’s a moral. Look past the songs about porn, racism and closeted homosexuality, and Avenue Q has a message; friendship, togetherness and helping others is more important that where you live or what you do.
If you haven’t ever seen the show, then try your best to catch it. Without any exaggeration, Avenue Q truly is one of the best musicals ever.