BWW Review: AVENUE Q at Stirling Community Theatre

BWW Review: AVENUE Q at Stirling Community TheatreReviewed by Corinna Di Niro, Friday 9th November 2018.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you would know that the hilarious musical, Avenue Q, has been running now for over twelve years, and it shows no sign of stopping. The Hills Musical Company has delivered this adults-only parody of Sesame Street in nothing but true tongue-in-cheek style. It blends real-life-sized adult problems with Sesame Street spin-off puppets, and the mix is a comic actor's dream.

When Princeton, played by Michael Bates, moves into Avenue Q, the strip where renters tend to be out of money, work, or both, he begins his quest to search for his purpose in life. He meets Kate Monster, played by Kate Hodges, who wants to open her own school for monsters, and the pair hit it off. After a night of wild passion, they become boyfriend and girlfriend, and all is well until Princeton gets seduced by Lucy T Slut, played by Shelley Crooks, and it's all downhill from there.

Not only are both Bates and Hodges exceptional puppeteers, but they are also very talented singers and actors. Both are long-time performers and between them have performed in popular shows including The Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast, Bye Bye Birdie, and Cats, to name a few. It was great to see Crooks pout and strut as she brought to life the vivacious Lucy T Slut (yes, that's her name). It may be her first time as a puppeteer, but you certainly wouldn't know it given how impressive her stage and puppet skills are.

Show highlights include Vanessa Lee Shirley and Emma Wilczek, who bring to life the Bad Idea Bears. These furry show-stealers lobby for questionable, at best, causes, such as encouraging Kate to drink alcohol the night before her first job as a school teacher, and convincing Princeton to spend his last pennies on a case of beer. Special mentions go to Mark DeLaine, for his comic timing, and to Ray Cullen, for his characterisation of Rod, who is coming to terms with being gay, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Speaking of puppets, well done to Rick Lyon, for his conception and design of them. Each puppet is made beautifully and reflects the struggles and desires they have during the performance. Set designers, Gordon Combes and Russell Ford, give us this tired Sesame Street filled with trash cans, adult only graffiti, clothes hung out to dry and drab apartments. The street light atmosphere, from lighting designer Matt Ralph, compliments this. At times, the lighting in Avenue Q took on a seedy Hindley Street feel, which gave it that true MA15+ rating.

The musical theatre aspect must be commended. There's a wonderful live band, led by Paul Sinkson, and the singing voices of the entire cast are strong. Songs are real, funny, and right in your face rude. The first half alone provides us with such songs including, It Sucks to be Me, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist, and The Internet is for Porn.

Director, Combes, and his stellar cast deliver a very 'un-PC' musical that doesn't hold back on language, sex scenes, innuendo, racism, and more. The demanding challenge of playing either puppet or actor is well met, as the cast all do a tremendous job. The interactions between puppet and actor are seamless, and we just love how the puppeteers strut and embody their puppet's mannerisms.

Choreographer, Sarah Williams, kept dance routines basic. With the large open pit for the band, I think this was a good choice. There were a number of times where I wondered if someone would miss a step and fall straight through. Even though the choreography was basic, the steps and hand actions could have been delivered stronger and with much more confidence. Perhaps opening night jitters got in the way, and everyone was making sure they wouldn't end up in the band below.

This Avenue Q delivers refreshingly real characters facing first world problems. It is a great night out that's bound to keep you laughing throughout.

Photography: Mark Anolak

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