Review: Avenue Q, Grand Opera House

The puppets and their human friends have left Sesame Street behind and moved in to Avenue Q. Photographs: Darren Bell
16 Sep 2015 @ 8.12 pm
| Entertainment

Avenue Q

Grand Opera House

Until Sat Sept 19

£17.90 – £36.90

More details

I’m having to type this very slowly, with one finger. Is it possible to get RSI from applauding too hard? I’m also somewhat hoarse from whooping and cheering.

Beware! You may find you develop these ailments too, if you go and see Avenue Q, being performed every night this week at the Grand Opera House.

How can I describe Avenue Q? It’s a filthy, funny, genuinely touching musical about what happens when you realise that children’s TV lied, and you really can’t be absolutely anything you want to be – no matter how hard you dream.

It’s about making a life for yourself despite a lack of money, poor employment opportunities, and bad choices. And it has puppets.

The music and lyrics are co-written by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez. If you find that second name vaguely familiar, it’s because he and his wife wrote the songs for Disney’s Frozen.

Do try to remember that, when you’re listening to The Internet Is For Porn, or I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today.

Crying with laughter

Jessica Parker and Stephen Arden as the Bad Idea Bears. Photograph: Matt Martin Photography
Jessica Parker and Stephen Arden as the Bad Idea Bears. Photograph: Matt Martin Photography

Although the programme carries a disclaimer that the show has no affiliation either with the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop, Jim Henson’s widow and daughter attended an early reading of the show, and gave it their unofficial blessing.

It’s a very affectionate parody of Sesame Street, complete with cheesy animations but, as my companion said, “Brought to you by the letter F, and the number 69”.

As always, the front of house staff were very friendly and helpful with my wheelchair. Level access is partway down King Street, but the box office staff need to be alerted when you arrive, so that they can unlock the door.

The accessible toilet next to this door is not overly generous in size, but is well-equipped and very clean. There is always an usher nearby if you need help.

The cast has three human characters, and 11 Muppet-style half-body puppet characters. The puppeteers wear black clothing, but are in full view of the audience.

You don’t exactly start to ignore them, but they do seem to become a part of their puppet as the show goes on. I cannot praise their skills too highly – it takes enormous dexterity and a lot of practice to make puppeteering look this natural!

Just like Sesame Street, the show tackles a lot of issues, with jolly songs and examples from the characters’ lives – unemployment, racism, homosexuality, alcohol, finding your purpose in life.

Two naked puppets having noisy and enthusiastic sex on stage, accompanied by the song, You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love), had the whole theatre almost crying with laughter.

But there is also real emotion in the show, and Kate Monster’s Act One closer, There’s A Fine, Fine Line, is very affecting.

Standing ovation

Nicky, one of the Avenue Q residents
Nicky, one of the Avenue Q residents
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but I do need to mention that there is a money-raising scene in Act Two, during which the cast actually comes into the audience with hats to collect contributions.

All money raised goes to three cancer charities: Henry Dancer Days, the Christie Charitable Fund, and Macmillan.

On Tuesday night, the cast was given a well-deserved standing ovation, with several curtain calls. The acting, puppeteering, and ingenious set design, combined with the excellent singing and clever choreography, make this a show truly not to be missed.

It pulls no punches, but it has a huge heart.