Avenue Q review
The ex-West End adult puppet show brings its feel-good cheek to Brighton
A road where humans, puppet people and monsters live, learn and sing together. Sounds familiar? You’re probably thinking of long-running US pre-schoolers show Sesame Street. Live musical Avenue Q – at the Theatre Royal in Brighton till Sat 8 June – is an affectionate, unofficial take on that famous TV series but this is certainly not a production you want to take children to.
Just a glance down the song list and the likes of The Internet is for Porn, Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist and I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today give you a bit of an idea of what’s in store. Then there’s the lengthy puppet sex scene… This is squarely adult humour, from the creators of The Book of Mormon, but it’s strangely heartwarming nonetheless. More importantly, it’s brilliantly funny.
Avenue Q transferred from Broadway to the West End where it ran for five years before going on tour. It was one of the first productions to have puppeteers visible on stage, a convention we’re now familiar with. In fact, so engrossed was I in watching the puppets rather than their operators that I didn’t realise till the end how many actors had doubled-up on character voices.
The show is cynical – an antidote to all those “you’re amazing, you can achieve anything” platitudes. An early song has characters competing on whose life sucks the most. Yet, it is also surprisingly uplifting. If there is a moral it is that you should free yourself from unrealistic goals.
There are two sweet love stories besides. One of these concerns chalk and cheese housemates who may or may not be gay and those who remember Sesame Street will realise this is a veiled reference to Bert and Ernie. A monster with a familiarly gruff voice is another nod to the children’s show and best of all there are educational animations that explain words like schadenfreude and the male and female take on commitment…
My favourite characters – the Bad Idea Bears – actually seem more like a subversive take on the Care Bears. The pair of cutesy-voiced puppets enthusiastically encourage others into terrible decisions on drink, relationships and more.
The set is a terraced street with windows of the houses opening dolls house-like to give an impression of characters’ homes. More fun could perhaps could have been had with this backdrop as the times the cast appeared in the windows themselves were some of the comedy highlights.
Avenue Q’s creator has called it a “fun, dirty little show”. Yes, it’s rude but not enough that it’s likely to offend most broad minded audiences. In fact the only aspect that made me feel uncomfortable was the jokey inclusion of a character based on impoverished former child star Gary Coleman and that was because Coleman died tragically young.
Even my musical-hating husband loved the show and the songs were really catchy. There was another surprise besides – I didn’t expect much more than competent vocals from such a comedy production, yet some of the singing was outstanding, particularly from Cecily Redman who voices two of the female puppets.
Catch the show in all its colourful, furry glory before the weekend and you’ll leave with a fuzzy feeling of your own.
Avenue Q is at the Theatre Royal, Brighton daily until Sat 8 June with matinees on Fri and Sat. Tickets are from £15.90 and the age guidance is 14+ atgtickets.com. It is also coming up at London, Southampton and Woking later in its tour.