Words by Katie Dancey
Avenue Q is often described as a grown-up version of Sesame Street and I can’t think of a more apt description. Instead of the street that taught us our ABCs, we have Avenue Q – a street that teaches us what the internet is really for and that it’s ok to be gay. A cast of puppets and their human operators discuss modern-day issues through comedic musical numbers, showing us the lives of the residents on Avenue Q.
This isn’t a show with the spectacle, special effects and big ensemble numbers of many musicals, and it probably isn’t the strongest story. But none of that is the point in the show, nor does it matter. Avenue Q tackles racism, relationships, sexuality and the mundanity of everyday life through puppetry, and the audience laughs along in recognition of their own lives.
Sell A Door Theatre Company’s production of Avenue Q is slick, clever and performed by a talented cast. It’s clear to see why they’re becoming well established on the touring circuit.
If there were any weak performances, this show would lay them bare. Not only do the cast members need to be excellent musical performers and master puppeteers, they also have to train our eyes to look only at the puppets, and forget the actors are even there. Sell A Door Theatre Company completely succeeds at all these things, which is what makes the production so strong. Although the puppeteers are completely visible, the puppets are so much an extension of the actors that the human counter-parts are barely noticeable.
The entire cast is so skilled, and works so fluidly as an ensemble that it’s difficult to highlight individual performances, but there are two show-stealers for me. Jessica Parker stepped in to cover Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut in Monday’s performance at The Mayflower Theatre, and it’s hard to believe that she isn’t the lead. Parker really makes the audience care about Kate Monster, and believe that this puppet has dreams and heartache. Stephen Arden, who plays Nicky, Trekkie Monster and the Bad Idea Bear, is a naturally comic performer. The most face-achingly hilarious moments in the show come from him, due to his on point comic timing and incredible ability to show emotion through his puppets.
The company throws in a couple of topical references, and it would be nice to see even more of these. The show is so American (the Gary Coleman character goes a little over my English head) that adding a couple of British references goes a long way.
This is a show that will stay with an audience, and I anticipate quoting the lines for years to come. Sometimes it’s cathartic just to laugh at life, and it turns out there’s no-one better to help you do that than a bunch of sweary puppets.