Avenue Q – Burton Brewhouse
I’d genuinely never heard of Avenue Q before our editor, Phil Lowe, asked me if I’d like to review Little Theatre Company’s production in my hometown of Burton on Trent. Turns out – and this is a frequent issue in my life – I’m approximately 20 years late to the party.
Usually by the time I rock up the celebration has long petered out; the remnants of a wonderful time strewn across a dark empty hall and perhaps a cleaner begrudgingly clearing away the garish decorations they had absolutely nothing to do with putting up in the first place.
Except this time, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out at all. The party is very much in action – live, kicking and quite frankly heaving in our fabulous Brewhouse. So, whilst the utterly retched April weather continues its downpour outside, I get ready for a little bit of frickin’ brilliance….
Devised by Robert Lopez (of Disney’s Frozen fame no less!), Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty’s book, this is a two-hour, Tony award winning, muppet style mix of humans and puppets. Although it emulates the format of Sesame Street, it addresses way more adult issues and challenges relevant today. It’s not quite Team America, but it’s not exactly a tea party hosted by Big Bird either. Think Cookie Monster minus a sugar addiction but with a voracious appetite for internet porn.
Opening with the joyous premise that life is a teeny bit shit for everyone, Princeton (played by the hugely talented Ollie Last) is a young English graduate, who, after venturing to New York in search of his purpose and vocation, can’t seem to find either leaving him with no job, and no money.
His only option is to rent an apartment in the cheaper, rundown street of Avenue Q – the caretaker of which is former child star, Gary Coleman (played with panache and a cheeky glint by Daisy Parker)
It’s here that Princeton finds himself navigating his way through life, love, sex and debt, aided by his new colourful (and equally as broke) neighbours: love interest Kate Monster, out of work comedian, Brian, and his show stealing Japanese wife Christmas Eve, roommates Rod and Nicky, internet porn advocate Trekkie Monster, Lucy the Slut, and the oh so naughty Bad Idea Bears.
Yup, make way for the adults, kids – finally, some puppetry I can get on board with. A hilarious story with astute observations and infused with a medley of outrageously catchy songs – I wish Avenue Q could take me through all of life’s tribulations. In fact, I could have done with these guys to help explain Theresa May’s sodding backstop.
Although first performed in 2003, many of the themes and topics are only too relevant, such as everyone being ‘a little bit racist’ – it’s refreshing to be able to enjoy such an inflammatory topic without anyone taking offence for once (hopefully).
Largely due to the immaculate script and song writing; at no point does any topic feel gratuitous or thoughtless – no doubt Director, John Bowness, and Assistant Director, Scarlett Winson are both thrilled with their hard work.
The main appeal for me is the collaboration between the actors and puppets. This production wouldn’t be anything without their ability and commitment; specifically, the way the actors combine the roles of puppet masters and performers. The way they utilise the puppets so intricately leaves me completely immersed in the story and humour: Dom White and Nathan Pocock’s dual performance as good-natured Nicky perhaps best demonstrates this – the precision in their movement and speech is undeniable.
The Little Theatre Burton actors remain in black, allowing their puppets to take centre stage, and I find that the most interesting aspect of this – the way they never forget they have a puppet to control, whilst blasting out note perfect choruses and solos of vibrancy and musicality – vocally, absolutely fantastic. Musical Director, Katie Hailstone, urgently needs a shout out here!.
As much as I’m appreciating the overall satirical tone and content of the show, I really feel that the undercurrent of the story – the friendships – underpins it and makes you feel, well, really good.
Heather Gallagher who plays Kate Monster (and also happens to double up as a phenomenal choreographer) is one exceptionally talented woman; she’s just effortless as sweet natured, but headstrong Kate.
I get the distinct feeling that Christmas Eve, played by Emmie Doyle, is perhaps the overriding favourite tonight. Her comic timing is exceptional; the way she embraces but doesn’t exploit the stereotypes of her character; the wisdom and gentle intonations against her shrill and volcanic eruptions has the audience exploding into laughter.
Each Lopez-Marx number is a delight with no wasted word. Every line drenched in wit, humour and meaning – I mean, I’m fully aware I’m watching a puppet mourn the loss of a boyfriend – but God bless her little heart!
Songs like ‘My Girlfriend, who lives in Canada’ by Rod, the closeted banker (an awesome Jowl Kirkpatrick) just pips ‘The Internet Is for Porn’ lead by a magnetic Nathan Pocock as Trekkie Monster.
The set is obviously cartoonish, but so clever as most windows open to suggest their own setting – for eg Kate Monsters Apartment, or the bar where we meet the voluptuous, man eating, Lucy the Slut. I’m marvelling over the portable props too – the singing boxes, Lucy’s hospital bed; they’re so adorable but not to be taken for granted – each item carefully crafted by some very accomplished people.
To give this production any less than five stars would be an injustice to everyone involved here tonight. I feel so grateful for the Little Theatre Company – if you have time, check out their Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram for upcoming shows – loads of creative updates for their productions.
I leave, meandering amongst the chatter and laughs still coming from the audience, everyone excited to discuss the performance amongst their circles. ‘I’m really glad you persuaded me to come tonight’ says one man to his partner, still giggling as they walk out in front of me towards the car park…’was it that Lucy’s tits on the heart rate monitor?’
Avenue Q is on until Saturday 15th April 202. Don’t miss this show. It’ll do you proud.