If you grew up from the 70s onwards the chances are you’ll have spent many a happy hour watching Sesame Street, the groundbreaking American kids show that, as well as teaching us all to count with the help of the world’s least scary vampire, also tackled some of the challenges of those tricky years between 5 and 13. Although nothing to do with Sesame Street (at least not officially, although clearly this is a loving pastiche of the show from the enthusiastic delivery of lines to the upbeat melodies and retro graphics on the TV screens) Avenue Q takes this basic template and looks at those even trickier years between 23 and...well...it’s all pretty tricky when you think about it.
Focussing on a young graduate called Princeton and his move away from home to the big bad city the plot should be pretty familiar to any Millennials out there. Armed with a degree he thinks he’s got life made but it turns out that life’s not so simple. Add a little love interest into the mix together with a porn obsessed monster, former Different Strokes child star Gary Coleman (not the real one obviously, he’s a little dead sadly), a busty femme fatale, a closet queen and several other deliciously observed characters and you’ve got the ingredients for one of the wittiest, most irreverent and fun musicals ever staged, packed with addictively catchy songs, smart dialogue and...er...the odd bit of puppet on puppet action.
Unlike most puppet shows the actors / operators are in full view throughout the action – which must be the acting equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your stomach – but within minutes it’s easy to forget they’re there (in the nicest possible way). As if that wasn’t impressive enough several play multiple parts too, notably Stephen Arden (hilarious as Trekkie Monster), Richard Lowe (you can’t help but love his Rod, as it were) and Sarah Harlington (feisty but cute as Kate and sl-utterly wonderful as Lucy) all of whom acted and sang their collective socks off. Although puppet-less the three human stars of the show also squeeze the full comic potential out of their respective roles, Araina Ii as Christmas Eve...or Clistmas Eve as she’d put it (PC this show ain’t but hell, Everyone’s A Little Bit Lacist), Etisyai Philip as the relentlessly optimistic Gary Coleman and Richard Morse as Christmas’ happy go lucky but ever so slightly henpecked hubbie to be, Brian.
Latent homosexuality, porn, racism, homelessness, poverty, suicide, shattered dreams...Avenue Q covers some pretty serious themes but somehow the writers and performers manage to find humour in pretty much everything. The tunes are instantly memorable (I’m still singing ‘It Sucks To Be Me’ a good 12 hours after the show), some of the material makes you think without being too preachy but most of all you’ll find yourself laughing out loud...genuine stomach wobbling belly laughs (see in particular The Internet Is For Porn and that puppet sex scene) in a way that few shows come close to. And if that isn’t your (Avenue) ‘Q’ to snap up a ticket in the next 30 seconds then, quite frankly, “it sucks to be you!”
Avenue Q is on at Exeter Northcott until Saturday June 4th. Tickets right here right now!