There is something surreal about watching puppets have sex on stage.
In fact, the entire show of Avenue Q is a little surreal. There are nine handstitched puppets on stage, and beside them the entire time are their puppeteers, dressed entirely in black. Though you can’t help but focus on them at the start, it isn’t long before you’re watching the puppets they expertly wield instead of the handlers.
The story follows Princeton, a fresh-faced graduate with an English degree, as he moves to Avenue Q to begin his new life. The cast of characters from his apartment drive the show, and through them we learn that Everyone is a Little Bit Racist, that Nicky would still care about Rod If You Were a Gay, and of course, that The Internet is for Porn.
This is an interesting, funny, satirical mashup of Sesame Street meets Rent. Lawrence Smith does a fantastic job of voicing both Princeton and Rod, two very different voices, and his singing is strong and clear. So, too, is Cecily Redman’s voice as she plays both Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, which are two extremely different accents that Redman pulls off beautifully. And when she sings There’s a Fine Line, it truly pulls on the heart strings.
The small cast works well together. Tom Steedon, who voices Nicky, Trekkie Monster (a very dirty version of the Cookie Monster), and the Bad Idea Bear, also does a fantastic job of switching between the three characters. Saori Oda, who plays Christmas Eve, a definitive stereotype, was good, though sometimes it was easy to miss her lines because she spoke so quickly and at such a high pitch, which was a shame because she probably has some really good lines that got lost. Oliver Stanley, playing her wanna-be comedian husband, was a grown up, disillusioned version of the humans who lived on Sesame Street. His voice was clear and his singing strong. Nicholas Mclean, playing Gary Coleman, came across as a camp version of the child actor-come-superintendent, and his lines were often quite funny.
The staging is simple, but that means you’re focused on the characters and nothing else, and in this show, the characters are what it’s all about. The final song, For Now, reminds us that life is largely temporary, and if you don’t know who you are and what you want, well, so be it. Maybe it will change. Maybe it won’t. But that song takes on the tone of the rest of the show, in that it handles the real life questions on a street level, making you think even as you laugh.
This is theatre for people who want a good show that makes them laugh. It’s not serious, though it takes on some sociological issues in a relaxed, tongue-in-cheek way. It has good music, a romance, and a talented cast. Enjoy.
Avenue Q plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until Saturday 20 July 2019.