Robert Hampton

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25th January 2009

London Calling
Posted by at 6.50pm | 2 responses | Stage, Trains

On Friday I boarded a Virgin Pendolino heading towards Euston, feeling incredibly smug, thanks to my forward planning which allowed me to book my ticket 10 weeks in advance, getting it for the ridiculously cheap price of £10.60 return. I felt less smug when I realised I had forgotten to take my camera with me, which means you’re going to have to rely on me painting a picture with words, and the one picture I took with my phone’s crappy camera that came out halfway decent:

Blurry London

Before even reaching the glamour of Theatreland, I had the excitement of getting caught up in my very first Underground signal failure, while heading out to my friend’s house at Boston Manor. I and a large group of annoyed Heathrow-bound people ended up standing around on a freezing cold Acton Town station for 15 minutes, watching lots of trains go past, none of which were going in the same direction we wanted.

You can tell I’m a tourist because I like the Tube. I can try and pretend that it’s just Merseyrail on steroids, but that would be wholly inaccurate. There are oddities aplenty which you don’t find on any other railway system: those Piccadilly Line stations where the train doors are below platform level; electronic platform signs which don’t announce any information until the train is almost in the platform and you could have just read the destination on the front of it anyway; passageways marked “No Entry” which lead to exactly the same place as another one five feet away marked “Way Out”. And of course, it has a language all of its own — “Mind the gap”, “Always touch out”, “Don’t sit there, someone’s pissed on the seat”.

The whole reason I was there was to see Avenue Q, which has been running for over three years, so must be doing something right. It’s been billed as “A musical for people who don’t like musicals”. I love musicals, so it would be even better for me, right? Yes!

Sesame Street is obviously a heavy influence, with the characters being a mixture of puppets and human actors. There are thinly disguised pastiches of Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie among the supporting cast. And yes, the latter two characters receive their fair share of gay references — but done in a really clever and heartwarming way, avoiding all the lazy and obvious jokes.

No attempt is made to hide the actors handling the puppets (a few of which need two people to operate), but after a few minutes you hardly notice they’re there, thanks to the effort and attention devoted to the puppets’ movements and facial expressions. Indeed, after a few more minutes, I almost forgot they’re puppets (and judging by the genuine “aww” that arose from the audience at one sad moment, so did many others).

Once you get past the idea of puppets that swear, have sex and download porn, most of the humour comes from well-observed material about modern life (and plenty of jokes at the expense of Gary Coleman, who really should sue). It’s laugh out loud funny throughout: comedy songs are notoriously difficult to get right, but the ones here are never less than great. Random sample of titles: Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love) and The Internet is for Porn.

The London show closes at the end of March — get there while you can!

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2 Responses
  1. Comment by Scott
    25th January 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Avenue Q is absolutely amazing. I saw it last autumn, and it’s a totally wonderful, joyous show that makes you laugh and touches you in a way that only musicals can. Yes, Daniel Boys is a big plus, but you can’t go wrong with a show that features a song called I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today.

  2. Comment by Robert
    26th January 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Ah, well, Daniel Boys was actually absent from the performance — we got his understudy, Simon Gorton (who was fab anyway).