Bristol Hippodrome

Avenue Q, February 2016


Off with kid gloves puppets


This week The Bristol Hippodrome welcomes a crowd of hysterical and naughty friends all the way from downtown New York City to share their hopes and dreams with a jam packed theatre of grinning audience members.

Directed by Cressida Carré, Avenue Q is a smash hit like no other; an award-winning, inventive and politically incorrect comedy that has sold out on the West End and Broadway and is now touring the UK for 2016.

I should probably mention that at least half of the cast members are, in fact, puppets, brought to life by a group of puppeteers who make very little attempt to hide behind their charismatic stars.

At first it's hard to know who to look at.

Should we be focussing on the straight-talking, swearing, cheeky puppets, or the figures dressed in black stood beside them?

Over time, it seems only natural to watch them both, making for truly unique entertainment.

The set designed by Richard Evans was that of a quintessential New York skyline, with the focus on a run-down apartment block and wired fencing; a bitter reminder that the American Dream is far from Avenue Q.

Every so often, two 80s-style television sets would appear, showing short, educational clips; a quirky feature and most likely an affectionate nod to Sesame Street.

The first furry friend we meet is Princeton, played by Richard Lowe, an optimistic and bouncy young man who has come to New York City to follow his dreams and find his purpose.

Unable to afford much more than a shoddy apartment on Avenue Q, he stumbles across some intriguing neighbours, such as aspiring teacher, Kate Monster, played by Sarah Harlington, with whom he shares some romantic and rampant moments.

He also meets Brian, played by Richard Morse, an unemployed comedian whose signature stand-up act includes ‘I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today’, a routine that left very little to the audience’s imagination.

Brian’s fiancée, Christmas Eve, is played by Arina ll, who naturally falls into the role of a struggling, candid, hilarious therapist, while Lowe also takes on the character of Rod, a secret homosexual and Republican whose struggle to transition from the dark and lonely closet to self-acceptance, touched the hearts of all of us.

The skill of these actors not only lies in their ability to lip-sync perfectly with their puppet friends, but to often throw their voices to other puppets around the stage yet hitting every note perfectly and never confusing characters.

Sarah Harlington particularly impressed the audience by simultaneously playing Kate Monster and sexy club singer Lucy the Slut at the same time with perfect fluidity.

A particular shout-out goes to Etisyai Philip who played Gary Coleman. For those of you who may not remember, Gary Coleman was an 80s entertainment star best know for his role in Different Strokes.

Unfortunately, due to the stereotypical pressures of childhood stardom, the character now lives on Avenue Q with a bunch of puppets, but gave us giggles throughout with his self-deprecating humour.

The musical numbers are upbeat and exceptionally well performed, but in addition to their catchy tunes, each one of them hit home on a variety of social topics such as personal identity, poverty, homosexuality and race.

Still, these serious issues were addressed with humour.

The most popular songs included Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist and The Internet Is For Porn both of which had the audience roaring with laughter.

Avenue Q first opened on Broadway in 2003.

It has won three Tony Awards for best musical, best score and best book.

In 2006 it transferred to London's West End produced by Cameron Mackintosh, where it ran for five years before touring the UK.

Avenue Q is produced by Sell a Door Theatre Company, who have been touring this new production since 2014.

Formed in 2007, Sell a Door creates productions aimed at engaging young adults in theatre.

This production of Avenue Q is one of the greatest shows I've had the privilege of watching, not only for its ever-updating contemporary narrative and cheeky political nudges, but also for its skill, technical detail and courageous honesty.

It will continue to dazzle and excited audiences at the Hippodrome until Saturday, February 13.

Tickets from £28.90 click HERE.


Emma Rowlands