Devonshire Park Theatre
Avenue Q is a cheeky parody of Sesame Street that pokes fun at this well-loved American television show. It takes aim at the foundational belief in the value of education by adopting its familiar characters and style and twisting them into commentary on life’s real lessons. It’s a warm pastiche and although it quickly butchers the family friendly format the musical tries to keep its heart of gold only slightly beaten.
It’s certainly fun and done with gusto, the puppeting is superb and the puppeteers quickly fading off and giving the puppets full empathic reign. The singing is great, with two or three stand out performances, ‘There’s a thin line’, which closes the first act is utterly dreamy and I closed my eyes to better concentrate on the singing.
Avenue Q has a huge following and it also has a huge reputation, and if you’re a fan then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this full powered energetic production but I felt slightly let down by its promise. Sure, it’s puppets being naughty and who doesn’t like watching puppet sex? Not only was it seriously funny, they were also having pretty good sex, but other than these odd brilliant moments there’s a dark heart to Avenue Q.
It being my first time down Avenue Q, I was expecting deconstructive irony, heavy with knowing jokes and woke humour, but instead got a misogynistic piece of work hiding behind some ageing jokes. The female characters are all problematic, and it’s pretending to be sex positive whilst pushing some peculiar heteronormative ideas of redemption and the punishment for agency and liberation. Lucy, ‘the slut’ becoming a god bothering born again chastity freak for instance.
But they’re puppets, I hear you cry, give them a break…. So I will, I’ll not say a thing about an intersectional understanding of racism and privilege, just roll my eyes & sigh.
Honestly the performers are great, with some sexy eye candy in blonde hunk puppeteer Ellis Dackombe, a lovely performance from Saori Oda as Christmas Eve and the crystal-clear lyrical perfection of Cecily Redmans fantastic voice. The ensemble cast work the material well, puppeting like mad, giving some wonderful interactions with each other, singing their hearts out and some of the set pieces work superbly. The music felt a little over amplified in the front few rows, but with a lively live house band you can forgive a touch too much base.
It’s odd that the writers slip a few up to date references into the songs to get a laugh but leave the basic premise untouched, perhaps they are not allowed to change it. Pity. The set looks like a down at heel northern British town, more Coronation Street than New York brownstones – they ain’t American front doors kiddo. The American references come thick and fast, some of them 15 years old. The Gary Coleman character is only familiar to anyone over 40, (my younger companion had to google him in the interval) Hell’s Kitchen is no longer the rough gritty place it’s referenced in the show etc. Avenue Q would benefit from an overhaul to bring its charming irreverence up to date a bit. The narrative thrust of the story has a good pace with fun songs meshing into some story advancement and then it all goes happy-every-after in a most unseemly rushy rush.
If you like naughty puppets, and the Eastbourne audience sure did, then you’ll love this well acted, beautifully sung performance but if you’re hankering after something clever, deconstructive and with some narrative heft, perhaps grab a copy of Team America instead. I liked it, I really did, it was fun, the Devonshire Park is a very comfortable space to spend a few hours, we laughed a bit, enjoyed the tunes, left humming snatches of melody but was somehow unsatisfied but then, as the final song points out – it’s only temporary, that’s only for now.
Until Sat 2nd November
Devonshire Park Theatre
For more info or to buy tickets see their website here