With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Avenue Q is a mischievous and irreverent coming-of-age tale, which satirises the anxieties of modern adulthood.
Set on a fictional street in the outskirts of New York, the musical follows the trials and tribulations of a group of neighbours, who have become disenchanted with their lives, as summed up by the song It Sucks to be Me.
The show requires a considerable suspension of disbelief, as puppets act alongside humans. The puppeteers are clearly visible on the stage and their body language adds to the characterisation, but they play no part in the storyline.
Initially, it was difficult to focus on the puppets and not marvel at the skill of the puppeteers, but the larger-than-life characters demand the audience’s full attention and you quickly forget about the actors who are controlling and voicing them.
The show was originally conceived as a television series, designed to parody children’s programmes, such as Sesame Street, by offering mock educational songs to address adult problems.
Much of the show’s power comes from this veneer of innocence, which completely wrong-foots the audience. The first utterance of the F-word by a charmingly, wide-eyed puppet was met for a split-second with a shocked silence, before the audience descended into schoolboy-like guffaws of laughter.
The show continued to shatter taboos, with its best-known song The Internet is for Porn and the lesser-known numbers Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist and If you were Gay, which briefly left the audience wondering if it was socially acceptable to laugh, before giggles emanated across the auditorium.
The taboo humour culminated in a puppet sex scene, which almost rivalled that of Team America. The action was accompanied by the uproarious song You can be as loud as the hell you want, which confirmed this is definitely an “adult” show.
On one occasion, the taboo humour was pushed too far and became gratuitously cringe worthy, but on the whole, the show skilfully navigated the fine line between being comically mischievous and unnecessarily vulgar.
The set, which resembled that of Sesame Street, was impressively versatile and by the end of the show, you almost felt like a resident of Avenue Q. A memorable moment came in the guise of two rocket-propelled beds jetting off into the sky, during a surreal fantasy sequence.
Equally impressive was a nightmarish scene, where a giant puppet loomed over the horizon from behind the houses. This 20ft wide figure had been painstakingly engineered for a mere five seconds of stage time, showing Avenue Q’s incredible attention to detail.
The main puppets cost up to $10,000 each to make and require 120 hours of hand fabrication per character. But the double-stitching, reinforced seams, steel boning and custom fake fur are clearly necessary for the gruelling tour schedule.
Overall, Avenue Q was a highly original and riotously funny show, but was certainly not for prudes. The show’s advice on suitability for children is as follows: “Is it appropriate for kids? Er, well, this is where it gets a bit fuzzy. But we promise you this – if you do bring your teenagers to Avenue Q, they’ll think you’re really cool.”
Avenue Q is being performed at Cardiff’s New Theatre until February 25. For more information, call the box office on 029 2087 8889 or visit www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk.