Tag Archives: London

Theatre Review: Avenue Q (Greenwich Theatre, London)

Felt Friends. The cast of Avenue Q> Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Felt Friends. The cast of Avenue Q. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Rating: ****

Avenue Q is probably one of the most outrageous of modern musicals, earning itself pride and praise alongside other risqué and brilliant ventures such as The Book of Mormon and Jerry Springer: The Opera. Five years after a spectacular run in the West End following on from its New York and Tony “Triple Crown” (Best Book, Best Musical, and Best Score), it returns to UK shores in this touring production by Sell A Door, landing in Greenwich for a brief period as its first stop.

Book and Songs

Book writer Jeff Whitty has his sights set to kill, with the nostalgia of innocence surrounding our memories of Sesame Street and other such shows right in his line of vision. Essentially, the musical asks, “what happens when puppets grow up?” The answer is they drink, they swear, and they fuck, with as much aplomb as us of non-felt origin do. Yet Whitty’s genius is that despite the very adult situations these fuzzy friends find themselves in, there’s still a definite air of children’s TV’s charm. It’s a devastating wit that drives the show, with the juxtaposition of explicit scenes and offence against a puppy-eyed Jackanory demeanour causing laughs and surprises that constantly come thick and fast.

Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx supply an anthology of songs that complement Whitty’s vision to a T. Whether it’s a jolly ditty about how, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, to explaining the joys of, “Schadenfreude” and how, “The Internet is for Porn”, all are smart, slick, and tuneful. But most importantly, they’re incredibly catchy and so easy to pick up. If you still have enough wind left in you from all the laughter you’ll be singing them out loud for days to come (but perhaps not in the office).

Production

Being a touring production, those who managed to catch the show during its West End residency, will notice that the set is much smaller and not as polished. But this doesn’t really matter as it’s Cressida Carré’s direction of the talented cast that shines through, making the set just a means to an end. Carré ensures that there’s plenty of energy throughout the show, letting the brilliant book, lyrics, and songs do the talking through an excellent cast. It’s noticeably pared down by way of staging, but the creative team make sure that not one ounce of the show itself suffers.

Cast

At the beginning, the fact that the cast controlling puppets are clearly visible is a bit of a distraction. As the puppets themselves are only formed from the waist up, it’s a little difficult to suspend your disbelief at first. But then something magical happens. You stop noticing the actors altogether.

Tom Steedon, playing Princetown and Rod, breathes excellent life into his to characters. Even if you just can’t see the puppets without seeing him at the same time, his larger than life facial expressions and the charismatic sass in his physicality make him a joy to watch. However, his leading partner, Lucie-Mae Sumner, playing Kate and Lucy the Slut, manages to do something quite magical. At points she and puppet meld as one, with both her and felt counterpart behaving in unity, complementing each other. Add that to her impeccable comic timing, and a wonderfully smooth and clear voice, she steals the show.

The rest of the cast, both puppeteers and non-puppet wielding ones also match Sumner’s and Steedon’s energy, pace, and comedy, working brilliantly as an ensemble. All revel in the humour and unabashed joy of the musical itself, and it shows.

Verdict

Up yours...literally! Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Up yours…literally! Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

It’s great to see that despite it being a touring version, it seems that nothing has been lost from the standard of the original West End production. Having personally seen it before, I’d actually wager that it’s a little better, especially as some of the scenes seem to be played even more gloriously over the top than before.

Whether you caught it the first time around, or have still to pop your puppet cherry, it’s a hoot. First timers can expect to have their funny bones broken, let alone tickled, and for those returning to the show will delight in just how high the standard of this production is. They’ll also be reminded of just how tight and well written the rest of the show is outside of the songs and moments people tend to remember the most.

The only criticism is that it doesn’t feel as fresh anymore. With the original off-Broadway production pipping Team America to the post by a single year, sending up childhood staples in a humorous and X-rated haze has become more common place over the past decade. Therefore, this not as shocking as it was when the show was in its prime.

But overall, Avenue Q is as vulgar, foul mouthed, and outlandish as it ever was. You’d be a muppet to miss it!

Avenue Q runs at the Greenwich Theatre, London, until 11 May 2014. Tickets are £17-£25 (concessions available). To book, visit www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk. For more information about the show, and other touring dates, visit http://avenuequk.com.

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Theatre Review: SIRO-A (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Siro-A. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Siro-A. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

NB: This is my review of Siro-A’s 2013 show. If you’re looking for their 2014/2015 show, click here.

Rating: *****

‘Virtual Reality’ noun. A computer-generated environment that, to the person experiencing it, closely resembles reality. – www.collinsdictionary.com Forget everything you thought about ‘virtual reality’ and prepare yourself for something far more extraordinary. Japanese group SIRO-A bring their ground-breaking show to London. Mixing live performance with 3D projections, techno music, dance, lasers, shadow-play, and traditional magic, the result is an enthralling and exhilarating hour-long assault on your senses.

Projection in theatre is nothing new, and those familiar with the work of Complicite will have already been wowed by such innovations. But SIRO-A raises the bar to an all new level that won’t fail to awe even the most hardy theatre buffs. And even if it manages to somehow unimpressed you’ve got to admire the tireless robotic precision it takes to execute such a show – SIRO-A are more akin to androids than men.

But this isn’t ‘virtual reality’, this is ‘virtual hyper-reality’. The group perform playing with and manipulating set and projected image that blur the boundaries between life and technology to the point where they’re almost indistinguishable – it’s like someone has dropped a tablet of acid between two Telsa Coils and you’ve subsequently woken up inside the internet. There are moments where life and image are one and the same and it’s impossible to tell them apart. Is that hole projected or a real one? Is that a performer or a video bursting through the screen? Confusion is gloriously rife.

The hour long spectacle absolutely flies by and nothing drags. Whilst it’s the group’s visual innovations that drive it, it’s also propelled by hypnotic video animation and thumping techno music. Also, there is also a good dollop of playful humour that really augments the show and varies the pacing. If this was a full-on serious affair no matter how bedazzling the gimmicks are there’s too much potential for it to become stale. But you end up chuckling just as much as you sit there with your mouth agape.

The show is pristine and faultless. However, unfortunately the same can’t be said about the venue. The problem with the Leicester Square Theatre is that it’s absence of raking means it’s a little irritating to have to crane your neck around any person above average height who you have the misfortune to be sat behind. Also, being so close up means it’s easier to spot the tiny give-away flaws that are unavoidable in such a technically demanding production. A quick search on YouTube and you’ll find that they’ve played much larger venues and the show is just as impressive, if not more so. But the inadequacies of the theatre are not so much of a burden to bear that it should stop anyone from seeing the show as it’s still utterly brilliant.

Overall SIRO-A is literally unbelievable. A magic show for the twenty-second century that’s unfathomably astonishing.

SIRO-A plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC1H 7BX, until 22 April 2013. Tickets are £17.00 (concessions available). To book, visit www.siro-a.co.uk.