Avenue Q

aveqAfter two successful West End runs and several UK tours, Avenue Q is back touring the UK and I caught the show at the New Wimbledon Theatre in London.

Avenue Q is a street on the poorer side of New York whose inhabitants all feel a little down on their luck.  The story centres around four puppets: Princeton, Kate, Rod and Nicky who are a mixture of ‘people’ and ‘monsters’ who, together with their neighbours on Avenue Q   (some of whom are real humans), are dealing with their 21st Century problems as young adults.  The show touches on racism, sexual identity, internet pornography, unemployment, romance and, charmingly, schadenfreude.  The grown-up themes are colourfully juxtaposed with whimsical characters who sing us through these modern-day issues as they each search for their purpose in life.

There are immediately-noticeable, and presumably intentional, comparisons with children’s TV programmes such as Sesame Street in both the staging and the puppets which straight away make you feel at home with the format.  Anyone who has enjoyed Sesame Street either as a youngster or a parent will pick up on some nods to the children’s show throughout the performance.

The musical numbers are, in the main, up-beat and extremely funny; cheekily poking fun at political correctness without being crass or offensive.  “If You Were Gay”,  “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn” all received raucous laughter from the audience.

A particular highlight of the show is the hilarious Bad Idea Bears who appear several times to tempt the characters into behaving badly (“go on, just one drink won’t do you any harm”) and act as the devil-on-the-shoulder of our protagonists at important decision points in their story, with varying success.

The puppetry is very well done with Stephen Arden and Jessica Parker presenting a perfectly synchronised pas-de-deux in controlling either side of Nicky throughout the show.  The notable vocal performance of the night was delivered by Lucie-Mae Sumner who gave life to both Kate, the kind-hearted monster looking for love, and Lucy, Avenue Q’s good-time girl, and sang her heart out as Kate in “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” just before the interval.

Jacqueline Tate was entertaining (despite the sketchy accent) as Christmas Eve, the Asian-American girlfriend of unemployed Brian played by Richard Morse, who himself got some laughs during his number “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today”.

The show’s producers have been vocal about wanting to “bring the Facebook generation into the theatre” in order to secure the future of producing successful theatre shows.  Avenue Q is certainly touching on the right kind of themes to make theatre relevant to today’s young adults and packaging it up in a tongue-in-cheek fashion that gives it energy and crowd appeal.  Judging by the demographic who had packed-out the theatre this evening, it seems to be working well.

Reviewed by Pete Cowell

Avenue Q is playing at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 30 August 2014. Click here for tickets