Avenue Q’s message, that friendship and self-belief can conquer all, has finally come to Hove’s The Old Market. Performed by Brighton Theatre Group, the packed house adored every moment of this musical search for emotional maturity.
In case you didn’t know where Avenue Q is located, it’s at the point where South Park and Sesame Street collide head on. This odd neighbourhood is home to a multicultural population like no other. Monsters, humans, puppets and Gary Coleman all live side by side in perfect harmony. Well sort of. Everyone is troubled occasionally, and Avenue Q’s inhabitants are no exception. Issues of race, sexual orientation, morality and growing up are all tackled with cartoon-like zeal. But the one thing that will conquer any woe is the quality of the company you keep.
Brighton Theatre Group, whose previous productions include West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, La Cage Aux Folles, Oliver! and The Full Monty, did a wonderful job of bringing the puppets to life. It was a full hour before I’d even considered the cast might actually be imitating the broad NYC accent. But then that’s acting I guess. Being the first night, there was the odd tiny blip. But frankly a glitch-free opening would have been unnerving for all involved. The performances themselves were fantastic, each actor deftly conveying the emotional responses of their puppet charge. Dancing around, operating a puppet and singing in a foreign accent, all simultaneously, is no mean feat I’m sure.
Anyone familiar with the piece understands that it’s all about the songs in Avenue Q. All of them deal with some of the plain to see, but less talked about, aspects of human nature. It’s a cold-hearted soul that doesn’t adore “The More You Love Someone the More You Want to Kill Them,” “It Sucks to Be Me” or “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” You can even sing along if you like. Many of the songs are based around reputation and simple rhyming couplets. You almost believe you were watching a kids TV show, if it wasn’t for the foul-mouthed puppets and their frankly sung assertions that “The Internet is for Porn.”
The narrative is packed with poignant life lessons, but not delivered with the usual saccharine-laden smugness. Instead they get presented in a non-judgemental, balanced and frankly hilarious manner.
It’s easy to identify with most of the show’s characters. Everyone has a pair of “Bad Idea Bears” lurking in the background, ready to drag you down a path littered with inappropriate decisions. Everyone remembers when they were starting out in life, with a head full of dreams, but no idea as how to realise them. I’m sure most people have felt out of place, out of patience or out of luck at one point in their lives. Everyone is a faded child star who rents out property to a strange bunch of characters. OK, maybe not. But, if you’re a certain age, it’s likely you idolised Gary Coleman as a youngster.
Bawdy, well-executed and uplifting, this production of Avenue Q is the perfect night out for anyone that’s had to grow up. Do whatever you have to do to catch it.
Avenue Q runs at The Old Market, Hove until Saturday 15 February, 2014