Avenue Q

Date 21st November 2019
Society City of Plymouth Theatre Company
Venue Devonport Playhouse, Plymouth
Type of Production Musical
Director Katy O’Brien Morse
Musical Director Gary Hawkins
Choreographer Katy O’Brien Morse


Author: Gareth Davies

‘Avenue Q’ is one of the great modern musicals of recent years and I was very much looking forward to what PTC were going to offer, wondering how well they would be able to execute the puppetry skills required to successfully pull off this show. I was very warmly welcomed by the front of house team, as always – hospitality is always excellent when attending PTC shows.

The show began with a short video presentation on video screens either side of the stage, introducing us to the ‘Avenue Q’ theme, played by the excellent band which was conducted by Gary Hawkins. Very well done to Gary and his band for an impressive performance.

As the show began, the street of houses (excellent work, as ever, from designer Andy Martin), with working doors and windows, set the scene. So far, so good and I was hopeful for a great show to come. The puppetry required for this musical necessitates a whole new skill set, where the performer must not only act and sing themselves, but also operate their puppet character in sync at the same time, ensuring that both are constantly acting and reacting together. This is achieved when we, the audience, are watching the puppet rather than the actor, but the illusion can easily be lost. It is not easy and requires hours of rehearsal to master.  

William O’Brien and Thaila Kelly were introduced to us as Princeton, who is new to Avenue Q and looking for his purpose in life, and Kate Monster, a regular resident of the street. Both actors here did a great job, with Kate Monster often stealing the show for me. The vocal used for this character and her accent were both superb and Thaila has a great singing voice. Her facial expressions were excellent and, as the puppets’ faces are of course motionless, this made a huge difference to the audience’s appreciation of the character’s feelings throughout the show. William O’Brien provided Princeton with a believably characterised speaking voice which I liked, and his accent was spot on for this character. More exaggerated facial expressions could have endeared us a little more to his role. That said, he did a good job of bringing Princeton to life for us and was well-suited for the character.

Tony Outterside and Shah Rahman gave us Nicky and Rod respectively. Great characterisation from these actors with super accents and vocals. Their duets were brilliantly staged and had the audience laughing along with them. Drew Statton had the thankless task of hanging on to the back of Nicky’s belt and following him at proximity around the stage, as second puppeteer. He did extremely well at matching the hand movements so that the puppet was in sync and the two actors worked well together. Drew gave the audience some great facial play, adding much to the character. Shah Rahman was spot on as Rod and played the character beautifully. His “Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada” was a great number, whilst Rod and Nicky’s duet, “Fantasies Come True” was lovely and the choreographed dream sequence was beautiful.

Andy Scott-Lloyd played the role of Brian and although the character is a little shy and more downtrodden by his partner Christmas Eve, I found him to be a bit too reserved on occasion, sometimes making it harder for him to compete with everything going on around him. His characterisation was lovely; just a little more projection of the role would have moved this from a good to a great performance. Danielle Barter played Christmas Eve, capturing the character well. She perhaps had one of the hardest vocals, with the “Asian-American” accent to overcome, whilst also having to portray the fiery nature of Christmas Eve. On these occasions I found it hard to distinguish some of the lines, although I do appreciate that this was due to the nature of the character coupled with the required accent. “The More You Ruv Someone” was well sung and Danielle gave us a good range of facial expressions throughout the show. A good performance from Danielle in this tricky role.  

The character of Gary Coleman was performed by the ever-brilliant Charlotte Robinson. Charlotte gave a strong performance and “Loud as The Hell You Want” was brilliantly funny: although watching puppet sex had me squirming in my seat! That is a scene none of us can ever ‘unsee’ – hilariously inappropriate. Rehearsals must have been ‘interesting’ for actors and director alike!

Ryan Procter voiced and played Trekkie Monster to perfection and “The Internet Is for Porn” showed us some great characterisation as Trekkie tried his best to keep quiet but, in the end, could not help himself! This was a scene stealing performance from Ryan. Lucy The Slut was well played by Laurie Grimwade, who gave us her slinkiest performance as we first met her in the Around the Clock Club. A great character, and the only one the audience is supposed to dislike as she seduces the naive Princeton, I would have liked Laurie to have really played some of the scenes in an even more over the top style and over-dramatize this more for comedic effect. It was a great portrayal of Lucy and you had the audience laughing at “Special”, well done! The Bad Idea Bears, played by Charlotte Jones and Sarah Ackroyd, were a joy from the moment they appeared. Just watch the diction from time to time with the high-pitched screeching, but I thought the facial expressions and vocals were particularly good - well done to them both.

With Jessica Emmett, Jacob Barlow and Drew Statton all making up the strong ensemble cast and playing amusing featured cameos, this was a talented cast led by Director Katie O’Brien Morse, who produced an excellent piece of musical theatre.

There were some lovely touches in the set design. Sound and lighting were good, fully employing the new sound system, from Andy Martin and Nim Green. For me, Act One had more pace, with the closing number delivered beautifully by Thaila Kelly, who showed great technique in acting through song here. The opening of Act II felt a little clunky, but this was soon remedied as everyone regained their stride - and the finale number “For Now” left us with a warm, sentimental glow in our hearts.

It can be a “fine, fine line” between professional and some amateur productions and this performance of ‘Avenue Q’ set a high standard for theatre in Plymouth. Congratulations to everyone at PTC; we are all looking forward to your exciting year of contrasting shows for 2020: ‘The Sound of Music’ in April/May and ‘Shrek’ in November!

Gareth Davies

NODA SW District 3