Southern Comfort

Apr 5 2019 | By More

EGTG take on Puppet Profanity

The devil is coming to Edinburgh this Easter holidays thanks to EGTG – a company that revels in a challenge and upholds the long tradition of the city’s amateur companies in taking on difficult work.

The devil, in this case, is in the shape of of Tyrone – a puppet of all things – in Robert Askins’ Hand to God. David Grimes will be directing the show which the New Yorker described as Sesame Street meets The Exorcist at the Roxy Arthouse from Tue 9 to Sat 13 April (not Friday).

Gordon Houston as Jason with two of the incarnations of Tyrone. Hand to God pic: EGTG

Tyrone belongs – although that is a questionable description of their relationship – to mild-mannered and shy Jason, who has sought solace in his mother’s Christian puppet ministry after the death of his father.

In the basement of a conservative church in Cypress, Texas, Jason discovers a blossoming talent for puppetry and thinks that things might just turn out okay. His mom and Pastor Greg seem pleased, the local bully is largely indifferent, and his puppetry has even caught the eye of the cute girl in the youth group.

However, it turns out that mild though Jason might be, his puppet Tyrone is a foul-mouthed and irreverent being, whose devilishly funny influence over Jason steadily grows. Not content with mere anarchy, Tyrone won’t be satisfied until he’s dragged everyone to hell and back.

First staged in 2011, Hand to God had a short run on Broadway in 2015. It played the Vaudeville Theatre in London for three months in 2016, where it was seen many times by David Grimes who says that even before the curtain fell on Act 1, the first time he saw it, he knew that he wanted to stage it.

subversive material

“The skill of the production lay not just in delivery of the subversive material but in the technical puppetry,” he says. “This was a challenge I knew EGTG could meet and I was more than happy to accept.”

Steven Croall, Hannah Fitzpatrick, Lori Flannigan, Gordon Houston and Oliver Cookson in the Hand to God poster.

Underneath, the play is a potent exploration of family, survivorship, and forgiveness – but that is all masked behind its comedy. But the laughs aren’t random – like all good comedy it is built on reality, Grimes says.

“The play, first and foremost, is hysterically fun and funny,” Grimes told Æ. “Yes it’s crude and rude, but the humour is also exceptionally smart and very biting.

“Having grown up near the area in which the play takes place, these characters, their desires and their foibles, read as truthful to me. I know these people. I grew up with these people. I’ve been to Sunday school with them and experienced the puppet ministries first hand.

“Even if you haven’t had that particular – and peculiar – experience, we’ve all had the shared experience of parental expectation, first love, loss, yearning, and not knowing how to cope when we’re in over our head.”

David Grimes has some solid productions under his belt as director, with 2014’s August: Osage County, a resonant production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 2016, a take on The Ladykillers that got the comedy just right in 2017 and, for Arkle in 2018, an inventive take on Travels With My Aunt.

But while Grimes is not a compete puppetry newbie, he has little experience with them. Fortunately, two of his cast have previously performed in Avenue Q – which also has puppets and much, much bad behaviour.

 an underpinning of hope

So why unleash the UK amateur premiere of Hand to God and the devil that is Tyrone on Edinburgh just now?

“Well… not to put too fine a point on it but, given the current political unrest and societal turmoil, I think we could all use a bit of a laugh at the moment,” Grimes says.

“What is so clever about the piece is that no matter how irreverent, how inappropriate, or how hysterically funny what is happening on stage, there is always an underpinning of hope. A hope that no matter how bad things get, we’ll get through this.

“We’ll manage to find our way back to each other, perhaps battered, bruised and broken, but we will connect. We will heal. And ultimately we’ll be better.”

Which, if you can stomach the hot (and one expects pretty extreme) puppet-on-puppet action which carries a 16+ advisory rating, might be just what is needed.

Listings and links

Hand to God
Assembly Roxy 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU.
Tuesday 9 – Saturday 13 April 2019
Evenings (not Fri 12): 8pm.
Tickets (£12) and further details: Book here.

EGTG Website:
EGTG Facebook: @edingrads
EGTG Twitter: @TheGrads
EGTG Instagram: @edingrads.


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