Avenue Q

May 10 2016 | By More

★★★★☆    Acerbic

Kings Theatre: Mon 9 – Sat 14 May 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

Packed with proper grownup moments and thoroughly entertaining with it, the Sell A Door production of Avenue Q steams back into the King’s with its cynicism buttons set to stun.

This is the inter-genre, skin and felt, actor and puppet, musical which gets right into the heart of humanity, by acknowledging that it is not our faults which make us bad, but our inability to accept them.

Etisyai Philip, Arina Il, Richard Morse and Richard Lowe. Photo Sell A Door

Etisyai Philip, Arina Il, Richard Morse and Richard Lowe. Photo Sell A Door

Without condoning porn and racism – or indeed without making light of their effects – it exposes both to the withering glare of the musical treatment with the numbers Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist and The Internet is for Porn.

Be warned, this is the proper withering glare of musical theatre: the music and lyrics are by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Yes, that is the same Robert Lopez who co-wrote Let it Go and gave Frozen its heart.

Not that you will be taking the latter’s target audience along to Avenue Q as it doesn’t just talk about racism and red hot rumpy pumpy – it depicts them. And, it turns out, puppet sex is hilarious, in what ever position you put it…

Ironically, it is the same protective reflex towards children which lies at the heart of Avenue Q – in which young Princeton learns that far from being the special person his parents told him he was, he is really quite ordinary.

true love

Avenue Q, itself, is way beyond the centre of town, where Princeton arrives fresh out of college with only a BA in English to his name.

Sarah Harlington (Kate) and Richard Lowe (Princeton). Photo Sell A Door.

Sarah Harlington (Kate) and Richard Lowe (Princeton). Photo Sell A Door.

Here he finds true love (or course – it is a musical) in the form of Kate  Monster, amidst the various drop outs and failures all living in a tenement where child star Gary Coleman is the building superintendent.

But he also learns that life is a lot more complex than that depicted on Sesame Street, and that not everyone can get what they want or even find their own purpose in life.

Indeed, is is Sesame Street which inspired the show, from the design of the puppets to the whole scheme of the musical with its mix of characters played by puppets and people; and with humans, monsters and real people as characters.

Now on its second UK tour – and having just passed its 100th performance of this outing – the Sell A Door production, directed and choreographed by Cressida Carre, is the smoothly running machine you would expect it to be.

But it is not stale with it. The human performers – Richard Morse as unemployed comedian Brian, Arina Il as his Japanese therapist girlfriend Christmas Eve and Etisya Philip as Gary Coleman – all deliver effective performances and easy integration with the puppets.

hidden in plain sight

The eight puppeteers, hidden in plain sight, bring a different level of performance. There is a real skill to allowing the puppet to do the talking and remain the focus of the audience’s attention, while you both mirror its facial expressions – add to them even – and disappear into the background.

Richard Lowe, Richard Morse, Arina Il, Etisyai Philip and Sarah. Harlington. Photo Sell A Door.

Richard Lowe, Richard Morse, Arina Il, Etisyai Philip and Sarah. Harlington. Photo Sell A Door.

When the puppeteers start doubling, things begin to get really exciting. The four ensemble members slip in and out of the shadows of individual puppets with ease, allowing each of the four main puppeteers to voice more than one character.

Sarah Harlington in particular, is truly immense. She gives a high-pitched, nasal but still inherently likeable tone to Kate Monster, then comes hustling out with the husky, full-blooded voice of seductress Lucy the Slut. Her singing voice hits all the right inflections – including those times when both her characters are on stage together.

Against her Kate, Richard Lowe voices the main lead, Princeton – all at sea with his ideas and principles, while also providing the voice and vocals for closet gay republican Rod.

Stephen Arden has a lovely bass voice for both Rod’s room mate Nicky and Trekkie Monster – who spends a lot of his time alone in his bedroom and voices the notion that the Internet is for Porn when naive Kate suggests she will teach her class all about the internet. Meanwhile Jessica Parker gets the second arm and one of those cute perveyors of evil: the Bad Idea Bears.

With a solid backing band pumping out their stuff from inside the confines of Richard Evans’ great set, and company who are clearly at home on stage with each other, this is a great production whether you’ve seen the show before or are new to it its brilliant, catchy tunes and acerbic wit.

Running time 2 hours 10 minutes (with one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Monday 9 – Saturday 14 May 2016.
Daily 7.30pm; Matinee Saturday 2.30pm
Tickets from: www.edtheatres.com/avenueq
Tour website: https://www.selladoor.com/productions/avenue-q

Here’s Martin’s review of the 2014 tour of this show: ★★★★★ Streets ahead

And you can buy the original cast recording on CD and MP3 here:


Avenue Q on tour 2016:
9 – 14 May Edinburgh
Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
16 – 21 May Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
08448 717652 Book online
23 – 28 May Lowestoft
Marina Theatre
01502 533 200 Book online
30 May – 4 June Exeter
Northcott Theatre
01392 493493 Book online
7 – 11 June Blackpool
Winter Gardens
0844 856 1111 Book online
13 – 18 June Weston-Super-Mare
The Playhouse
01934 645544 Book online


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