JOAN DAVIES

    The guaranteed full-on puppet sex fulfills its promise, and more A NEW production of Avenue Q, the fuzzy-puppet, post-adolescent musical comedy hit, is in Manchester for one week (until Saturday 31 May). It deserves its success. Trying to explain this show is a little like explaining the appeal of Channel 4's Gogglebox. It sounds mad and seems to go against all the guidelines for theatre, particularly puppet theatre, but it works. It tells the story of Princeton, a fresh graduate arriving in New York City with big dreams, limited funds, and a degree in English Lit. Moving into Avenue Q, the only place he can afford, he finds friendly, if slightly odd neighbours and begins to encounter the compromises and uncertainties of adult life. There’s Brian the out-of-work comedian and his therapist-with-no-clients fiancée Christmas Eve; Nicky the good-hearted slacker and his closet gay Republican banker roommate Rod, an Internet ‘sexpert’ called Trekkie Monster and an unrelated nursery teacher named Kate Monster. The building’s superintendent is Gary Coleman, that's Gary Coleman the actor who played the 'cute' kid in Diff’rent Strokes. It’s a comment on the often fleeting nature of celebrity fame. In this show Gary experiences a greater happiness than his real life eventually provided. The songs are funny and warm with a mix of cheeky self-deprecation, emerging adulthood awareness and a large chunk of political incorrectness: The Internet is for Porn, What Do You Do with a B.A. in English? and It Sucks to be Me are great, though I was less comfortable with Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist. Love appears, disappears, reappears, and wanders round uncertainly. The tunes are recognizably of a type, show-bizzy musical theatre but fortunately unlikely to be major X-Factor entities, with the lack of overly-predictable key changes and sirening adding to the delight. Avenue Q is a show about the student-to-real-world transition, finding your purpose in life and learning to cope with the idea that maybe you’re not as special as your parents made you believe. The show includes a mix of knowingness and naivety which cements its appeal to a wide range of audience. The press release says suitable for 14+, personally I’d up that a bit. The guaranteed full-on puppet sex fulfills its promise, and more. But this is a puppet show, so it’s OK. I think. The puppets are expertly handled by a talented and unhidden cast. The decision to keep the puppeteer actors in full view works wonderfully as their body language echoes the characters’ emotions and persona. In a piece of theatre where timing is crucial, the standard of performance is excellent from all the cast, in particular Lucie-Mae Sumner who plays innocence via Kate Monster and the opposite as Lucy The Slut. Inexplicably, but unconfusingly, three characters are played by actors without puppets. It all just works. Actually, trying to explain this show is a little like explaining the appeal of Channel 4's Gogglebox. It sounds mad and seems to go against all the guidelines for theatre, particularly puppet theatre, but it works. Avenue Q, co-created by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, celebrates its tenth birthday after opening Off-Broadway in 2003. It won three Tony Awards and transferred to a Cameron Mackintosh West End production which eventually toured the UK and the world. The current production, sharply directed by Cressida Carré, is produced by Sell a Door Theatre Company with puppets made by Paul Jamain of PG Tips Monkey fame. Sell a Door’s purpose is to attract teens and young adults to theatre work. On this showing they’ll do well, even getting the older generation along to pay for the tickets.