This was our second stroll down Avenue Q, the first being about five years ago. We had such happy memories of this hilarious show that we knew we had no choice but to see it again. I remember very clearly buying the tickets the first time. The lady at the box office almost wanted us to swear on the Bible that no children would be attending, lest they witness the horror of puppet sex. We were able to reassure her on that point, and almost began to be alarmed at what effect it might have on us.
The puppet sex – inter alia – is still performed with blissful abandon, I’m delighted to report. The success of this show is the winning combination of the daily problems that beset human beings – being out of work, troubled relationships, ambitions, self-deception, discrimination, and so on; but being performed by Sesame Street style puppets. The witty songs all have great insights into modern day life, and the whole thing overwhelms you with its utter charm and honesty.
Central to the show is the on-off relationship between Princeton and Kate Monster. He’s the new kid in town, she’s the one who can never keep a boyfriend. There’s an instant attraction; and after the liberated night of passion (viz. paragraph 2) careless talk and misunderstanding drives them apart. Princeton rebounds into the arms of Lucy the Slut, a singer of dubious decency; but she’s not a Nice Girl and only wants Princeton for his physical prowess. Kate is on the viewing platform of the Empire States Building, alone and forlorn like Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal, where she unwittingly causes a catastrophic accident to Lucy, and there’s a hope that her relationship with Princeton just might have a future.
A concurrent tale of another turbulent relationship is that of Nicky and Rod. They house-share but have never been honest with each other about their sexuality. Rod is firmly in the closet, behind several locked doors and chains; Nicky is peeping out from the closet and just wants to be buddies with Rod, no matter what his sexual predilections. Rod is so repressed that he eventually chucks Nicky out, who ends up begging on the street. Neighbourly advice and self-realisation eventually win over Rod’s self-delusion, he accepts Nicky back, and all three live happily ever after.
Other characters populate the street – real humans! In a sense they kind of bring the fantasy down, although the human/puppet mix underlines the melting pot of life on Ave Q. There is a character called Gary who is meant to be the child star Gary Coleman from “Diff’rent Strokes”. This worked fine back in 2006, but now that unfortunately the real Gary Coleman has died, this doesn’t seem to me to work so well any more. It makes it rather dated. I can see how it would need considerable rewriting to overcome this; but it just didn’t feel right. This is no criticism of Matthew J Henry in the role who had a great comic presence.
Much better are the Bad Idea Bears! Two evil little “butter-wouldn’t-melt” critters, who joyously come up with irresistibly bad ideas, on whom the whole of humanity can blame its mistakes. They are the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Error. I’d forgotten how for years after we saw the show the first time, the Bad Idea Bears would constantly invade our house and interrupt our conversations. They’ve already moved in to our new place and I’m sure they will stay some considerable time.
The show is marvellously performed by a young skilful cast, especially those who bring life to their puppet characters, effortlessly swapping identities and voices during the whole performance. Adam Pettigrew as Princeton and Rod does a superb job, making Princeton a real “Everyman” character and delving deep for the complexities of Rod. Rachel Jerram brings the infectiously goofy charm of Kate to life, making her a really loveable character, whilst having a great time portraying the languid whoredom of Lucy. Chris Thatcher voices Nicky with a childish innocence, and Trekkie Monster with bestial knowingness; and both he and Katharine Moraz as the Bad Idea Bears endear themselves into being your wannabe best friends – which in itself would be a Very Bad Idea Indeed.
It’s a technically fantastic revival. It felt slicker and more professional than the West End production we saw five years ago. Let’s hope it doesn’t go away too long.