Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Avenue Q
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Avenue Q
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Avenue Q
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17 May REVIEW: Avenue Q

Fresh out of college clutching his English degree, Princeton needs only two things; an apartment, and a job to pay for it. Starting on Avenue A and meandering down the alphabet until he hits something remotely affordable, he ends up on Avenue Q, a street inhabited by a quirky group of furry characters, from investment banker Rod and his decidedly unreliable housemate Nicky, to two very different monsters: Kate Monster, a gentle kindergarten teacher, and Trekkie Monster, the Cookie Monster of porn.

Heavily inspired by Sesame Street (though formally the two are unconnected), Avenue Q is like a marvellous parody, for grown ups who were once children that got up early to keep up with the Street, and who look back at it with affection. Mimicking both the characters and format, it’s certainly a homage, though definitely not for children. By that I don’t mean it’s just a little bit sweary. We’re talking full frontal puppet nudity, puppet sex, a lot of chat about porn and a bit sweary.

Noted as a pioneer in the field of puppet musical theatre, Avenue Q makes use of both rod and live hand puppets as protagonists, animated by visible on-stage puppeteers, as well as incorporating human actors that interact with them. An unusual approach, it works remarkably well, the skill of the puppeteers bringing the characters to life on stage, somehow making you watch the puppets as characters in their own right, rather than those voicing them. With excellent work from incredibly versatile performers – most notably Stephen Arden and Douglas Walker (covering for Richard Lowe) – the vocals and puppetry both stand up to scrutiny, and admiring the ability of the performers to voice more than one character on stage at once is like watching a show in itself.

Despite being one of the silliest of comedies around, Avenue Q refuses to shy away from serious topics, with whole songs dedicated to racism, pornography and sexuality – if not in the most politically perfect way. Shrouded in comedy, with songs like “The Internet is for Porn” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx revel in the silliness of the production to use it as a safe-zone platform to discuss important topics. It’s something that’s never more true than with the depiction of the monsters, marginalised members of society considered beneath the others, criticised and mocked because they look just a little bit different. The prejudice against them is a perfect metaphor for racism, sexism or any other “-ism,” and the fact that their being “monsters” is seen as a legitimate reason to discriminate against them – ridiculous to our eyes – undercuts any ideology that would promote it.

Although unarguably funny, Avenue Q falls short of being “absolutely hilarious.” With the progression of musical comedy in the 13 years since it was conceived, in comparison to more modern creations it no longer feels cutting edge or daring, and moments that might once have shocked feel just ever so slightly surprising. That said, the ear worm songs are just as sticky as ever, and will have you humming them not only all the way home, but all day the next day, and probably for the rest of the week.

In short, Avenue Q is ideal for a feel-good evening, best enjoyed with a glass of wine and some friends.

For information and tickets:
Image: Darren Bell

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here