Hand To God is the latest production to hit the West End after transferring to London from the bright lights of Broadway. Robert Askins play tells the story of Margery (Janine Dee), who lost her husband six months ago and is keeping her life, just about together, the only way she knows how. Church. Margery is teaching a group of children how to make sock-puppets (her only apparent skill). Jason (Margery’s son), Jessica and the rebellious Timothy. Jason’s sock-puppet Tyrone turns evil and starts creating chaos, biting off another students ear and abusing young Jessica. There is only one thing for it. Pastor Greg (Neil Pearson) will have to perform an exorcism to rid Jason from the wrath of his puppet Tyrone. As you can imagine, all hell breaks loose and the group start to question whether Tyrone may actually be the devil himself.
The first half of act 1 is fairly slow with a sock puppet spouting references from the bible and it isn’t until Tyrone (the puppet) becomes evil that things start to pick up. A masochistic sex scene between mother Margery and her student Timothy is brilliantly acted by Janine Dee and Kevin Mains and provides some of the best comedy moments of the night. Jemima Rooper is good as Jessica, keeping the chaos slowly bubbling away and Neil Pearson, as Pastor Greg is perfectly cast as the lovesick man who is potentially using God to keep the woman he loves close to him. The real star of Hand To God though is Harry Melling, as Jason and puppet Tyrone. He flits from the shy, quiet schoolboy to the evil monster of sock puppet Tyrone brilliantly and it is impossible to not admire his huge talents as an actor and a puppeteer.
Press night audiences are always extremely enthusiastic. Families, friends, celebrities and press come together and I wonder if it is possible for a show not to get a standing ovation on press night just because all their biggest supports are there. Hand To God got a lot of laughs (many of them in places that I just didn’t feel the need to chuckle) but the writing was definitely weak in places. It was as though half of the audience had never seen puppetry on stage before. And yes, a sex scene between two sock puppets is funny but it’s been done before in Avenue Q and so I wasn’t quite in the fits of laughter I was hoping for from a show described as ‘sesame street meets the exorcist’.
Hand To God is a good, fun show with some great performances and a beautiful set design of a children’s church school. The message is a little muddled but ultimately it shows how people cope differently with the loss of a loved one. Some turn to imaginary friends and others to having their bodies violently used. We all have different methods of coping. This show certainly won’t be for everyone and is aimed at a younger audience. If you didn’t find The Book of Mormon funny then this one probably isn’t going to be for you either but it certainly has a market out there.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Tristram Kenton