Lucy The Slut:
Bad Idea Bears:
I am an unashamed Avenue Q fan – great music, great comedy and that extra dimension the puppets bring – what more could you need from a show? Thus it was with no little excitement that I arrived at the fantastic Merlin Theatre last night for their production. When I was given the program and saw the cast list: packed with talented alumni from high quality shows I have enjoyed at both of Frome’s theatres, I was certain that this would be a production to remember.
From the outset, as the full cast, unadorned with puppets, sprang onto the stage with energy and bounce to welcome us to the show with the Avenue Q Theme it was very clear that this cast could sing and move! A great start. The show proper is opened by Princeton (Matt Graham)’s What Do You Do With a BA in English immediately showing a great singing voice and, importantly for this show, ability as a puppeteer. Puppeteering is not often required of an actor and is a very particular skill: Mouth synchronization with speech in terms of timing and degree of mouth movement combined with arm/hand movement, combined with the actor’s own facial and physical acting having to support the puppet and not up-stage it, combined with singing and dancing. No “small ask” of any performer! As Princeton arrives at Avenue Q we meet all of it’s sparkling and hugely varied inhabitants: Kate Monster (Nicole Woolridge), Brian (Davey Evans) his partner Christmas Eve (Jacs Brady), Gary Coleman(!) (Dora Bishop), Nicky (Scott Ward), Rod (Ryan Hughes), Trekkie Monster (David Hyndes), Lucy the Slut (Tabi Cox), The Bad Idea Bears (Abi Holmes and Richard Thomas), The Newcomer (played by the director) and the character with my favourite name in all musical theatre: Mrs Thistletwat (Daisy Mercedes). Many hard hours of rehearsal were very obvious from the ease in which the performers handled their puppet partners and, as is the mark of good puppetry, it was the puppet one watched and engaged with rather than the actor.
Diction, accent, comic timing and movement and song were universally strong from this super cast with no real weaknesses apparent. There were some memorable “snapshot” moments for me: Kate Monster’s touching Fine, Fine Line – Nicole Woolridge is a performer on top of her game at present; Gary Coleman’s initial entrance- the remarkable Dora Bishop immediately establishing a very strong character and showing some fabulous singing; Rod’s “Surprise!” as he came out- Ryan Hughes giving a great performance; Lucy’s Special – Tabi Cox somehow contriving to look so much like her puppet it was unnerving and delivering a belting version of the song and Brian’s very subtle rendition of I’m Not wearing Underwear Today will stay with me for a disturbingly long time!
Much as I would love to report the show as flawless I sadly cannot and there were a couple of areas which, whilst not spoiling the evening’s entertainment, certainly removed a little of the “shine”. These were two-fold: Technical and directorial. Forgivable are the failure of the electronics controlling the video projection, errors in mic cueing, backing-track cueing and lighting- these, unplanned things happen but I struggled more with the planned stop-start nature of the scene changes. In a very modern show it was strange to have scene changes made in such an old fashioned way – in blackout. The effect was to interrupt the pace and flow of the show. The performers were working their socks off to make the show smooth, pacey and exciting only to have that flow stopped dead by a clunky scene change. I wondered if staging for the majority of the sofa and desk scenes was necessary at all – perhaps just a couple of phones would have been sufficient ?
Having had a little moan I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, which was full of laughs and showed a very talented cast working together to great effect. For this group Avenue Q was a terrific choice and the standing ovation from the packed house as the show closed might be seen as answer enough to any criticism!
Review written by Ian Hurdman