During my ‘Puppet‘ year in 2017, I was lucky enough to see Avenue Q at the New World Stages in New York and absolutely loved it – so imagine how thrilled I was to learn (almost a year ago) that the show was going to head out on a UK tour once again! The tour kicked off in Portsmouth at the end of last month, and has now made its way over to Wimbledon for a week-long run.
Princeton has just graduated and is looking for somewhere to live before he starts his new job; Avenue A is well out of his price range, so he finds himself living on Avenue Q (where Gary Coleman is the superintendent of Princeton’s building). Here we meet most of the other characters, as they’re all fellow Avenue Q residents: Kate Monster, Rod & Nicky, Trekkie Monster, and Brian & Christmas Eve (the only two other humans). It’s reminiscent of programmes such as Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, both with the human-puppet interaction and the parodying of the educational elements of those shows; Princeton learns about the concept of ‘purpose’, and tries everything he can think of to find out what his is. Along the way he tangles with Lucy the Slut, takes advice from the Bad Idea Bears, and attempts a relationship with Kate – but will he ever be able to use his degree?!
Avenue Q is now 16 years old. It is almost inevitable that a show like this will show its age (for example, I only know the Diff’rent Strokes catchphrase “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” through indirect means), but oddly it still makes it work. Its outrageous humour and catchy musical numbers carry it through; one moment you’ll be gasping or cringing, the next you’ll be crying with laughter. There are some real earworms in Jeff Marx & Robert Lopez’s score – I challenge you to keep The Internet Is For Porn out of your head! The live band (led by MD Dean McDermott) injects some extra energy, and the cast provide some wonderful harmonies when they’re not making us roll in the aisles.
Cecily Redman is endearing as Kate Monster, and hilariously vampish as Lucy the Slut – she plays these polar opposites incredibly convincingly, made all the more impressive when the two characters have to interact. Tom Steedon definitely stands out as the porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster, with impeccable comic timing in both delivering his lines and providing moments of visual comedy (even in the background); Steedon also partners up with Megan Armstrong as the Bad Idea Bears, who quickly become audience favourites. Lawrence Smith leads the show superbly as Princeton, also doing a fantastic job as closeted Republican investment banker Rod. And it’s a real testament to the entire company’s skills as puppeteers (as well as Paul Jomain’s engaging designs) that you often don’t notice that a different person is momentarily in control of someone else’s puppet – you’re far too engrossed in the action.
From a purely practical perspective – if you’re thinking of going to see this show (or any other) at the New Wimbledon Theatre – for around £25 (ticket + fees), the seat I was given in row J of the upper circle represents pretty good value for money. It’s fairly central and well raked, so your view isn’t impeded too much by people in front of you (unless they’re the selfish kind who lean forwards), just be careful if you’re affected by vertigo – and also be aware of the amount of stairs you need to climb to get to the upper circle. Unfortunately, this section of the theatre isn’t great when anything happens towards the top of the set; you don’t miss much, and it doesn’t happen very often, but I know it can be absolutely infuriating for some. Up this high you can be more at risk of being surrounded by people who’d rather talk, crunch & rustle instead of pay attention to the show – I had hoped to be proven wrong, but sadly I wasn’t on this occasion. That doesn’t mean it happens all the time though!
And even that isn’t enough to stop you from having a fantastic time watching this show. Don’t be fooled, parents – Avenue Q is a show that proves puppets aren’t just for kids… The show is recommended for ages 14 and above for good reason! Though serious topics are mentioned, it is actually quite a breath of fresh air to watch something that’s irreverent and, quite simply, a damned good laugh. This Brexit-free zone is to be treasured and is as good a place as any to retreat into as both politics and the weather get bleaker.
My verdict? This irreverent puppet musical stands the test of time thanks to its outrageous humour and catchy songs – heartily recommended for anyone in need of a laugh!
Avenue Q runs at New Wimbledon Theatre until 9 February 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office. Full details and tour dates can be found on the official website.