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Sidmouth Manor Pavilion Theatre - An Inspector Calls (with James Pellow)

Folks who know me very well often say, kindly I think, that I should get out more. I’m a grumpy old sod at the best of times and in the ...

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Avenue Q (DAOS)

Lots of my theatrical friends, I have one or two, say I do not like musicals. It ain’t never, ever, been true. I love a good one as much as anyone. My problem, particularly on the amateur stage, was that many were devoid of imagination in choice or presentation. Or, even worse, both. If you are regurgitating an Annie or Oliver for the umpteenth time you need to put a special twist on it to grab me by the fundamentals. But old or new, spin it with verve and creativity and I can be as hooked as the biggest musical fan. My favourite musical evenings have ranged from Stephen Sondheim to Lionel Bart, from The Drowsy Chaperone to Chorus Line, from Carousel to Chess. All different, but all with the commonality of gobsmacking style. Took one in this week. An everyday story of young folks searching for that elusive American dream in a downmarket New York City borough. The human condition writ small and detailed. Absolutely loved the whole evening and, disturbingly, went home thinking deeply about their emotional frailties and traumas. So what, you may say, good theatre does that. But this was a group of woolly puppets, a bit of colourful cloth with hands up their imaginary backsides, for God’s sake. Avenue Q, the smash hit puppet musical and its richly rounded and flawed characters surprisingly touched me as deeply as any in a well crafted drama. I really should get out more. Or maybe less. Am seeing my shrink tomorrow. In saying this I am applauding the actors who were on stage with them. They were the ones saying the lines and singing the songs, but it was the colourful puppets you concentrated on. Those actors would not have had it any other way. You felt for Kate Monster (Lucy O’Hare) as she desperately and willingly threw herself at the man of her dreams, the likeable and troubled Princeton (Ashley Mead). He searched frantically for his purpose in life and, along the way, had the most amazing on stage bonk with his Kate. You could only do it with puppets. My favourite character Rod (Simon Rollings) was so uptight about his obvious homosexuality that his pitiful self denial led to him throwing his flat mate Nicky (James Halling/Helen Maile) on to the streets. You have made that nice boy homeless, you bastard, I felt like shouting. And homelessness, like racism, homophobia, internet porn and money were key features of this Sesame Street for adults. Even Schadenfraude, look it up, got a mention. It pleases me immensely not to tell you what that means, unhelpful soul that I am. But I will tell you that as well as the main puppet characters we got a wonderfully gross and foul mouthed Trekkie (Joshua Thompson/Anna Woods), the neighbour from hell, and a feisty Scottish schoolteacher with the super name of Mrs Thistletwat (Alana McKenna). Billed as Mrs T in the programme but I am sure I heard this right. I sincerely hope so. I wasn’t a big fan of Blue and Yellow Bear (Kim Albone/Katy Elliott). Nothing to do with those ladies, both fine actresses, but their screechy bad idea consciences for Princeton interfered with an absorbing story of street folk. Just my opinion but I reckon those characters would appeal more to kids and a kids show Avenue Q is not. You wouldn’t get Lucy the Slut (Jenna Ryder-Oliver) at any kiddie’s party. This diva flaunted sex as a weapon of choice and necessity. And she flounced offstage in beautiful symmetry with her shadowy puppeteer. Two flounces for the price of one cannot be bad. Perhaps, on second thoughts, modern, computer savvy, five year olds would like that. They flounce around a lot in Waitrose. In a show rich in ethnicity it is hardly surprising that we also had humans in a variety of shades. Only three, but they mingled well with those of the puppet races. Oh that real life could be like that, he says wistfully. Paul Rogers was a little too underpowered as the well meaning but pretty useless comedian Brian but Susan Young made for an interesting slant as a Japanese Christmas Eve and Damien Winchester was an engaging Gary. Childhood success followed by dismal adult failure was the downward theme of Gary’s troubled life and in a show with many subtle and not so subtle messages this young man’s was one. Mr Winchester sang brightly and acted sprightly. His is a local name to watch. Remember you heard it here first. I shan’t list all the songs. Too many, and if none are hit parade material all were relevant and jolly and all sung with style and energy. I particularly liked ‘If You Were Gay’ (Nicky and Rod), ‘The Internet is for Porn’ (Trekkie Monster), ‘There’s a Fine, Fine Line’ (Kate) and ‘The Money Song’ but none jarred and the lyrics were clever. Click, click, hold your dick, won’t win any literary prizes but it appealed to my dirty mind. Overall director Chris Young and Choreographer Lynette Driver did a super job with a show which must have been fraught with technical and presentational difficulties. They had the essential tool in Paul Jomain’s quintessential puppets but, helped by a clever technical team, they had to sell it to an audience in which disbelief has to be suspended and a special narrative embraced. That they succeeded owes much to their precision, let down only briefly in act two scene changes, and the commitment and talent of the actors controlling the puppets. After the first few minutes on stage I was not conscious that they were there. I was in thrall to the joys and frustrations, the pleasures and the pain, of the lives of Kate Monster and Princeton, of Nicky and Rod. That is the heart of the success of Avenue Q. Do it right, and DAOS did, and we believe in and love those bits of cloth. I am telling my psychiatrist tomorrow. I think she will change my tablets. Roy Hall

Wendy Says - ' I just loved the Trekkie Monster, so wonderfully foulmouthed.'







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