Avenue Q at the Lichfield Garrick – Review

Avenue Q Review – Lichfield Garrick Theatre

Lichfield Operatic Society

Tuesday 8 to Saturday 12 May

Fawlty Towers Meets The Producers Meets Sesame Street on Avenue Q!

One of the most irreverent, challenging, outrageous and controversial movies (and later stage musical) of the 1960’s was Mel Brooks’ The Producers, which satirised the movie industry and featured several taboo subjects which split audience opinion on release – although now widely regarded as a film classic!

Avenue Q, the latest production from the talented cast and production team at the Lichfield Operatic Society, is from the same stable as The Producers (with flashes of both Basil Fawlty and Sesame Street thrown in to the mix!) as it features a number of sensitive and controversial subjects all wrapped up with catchy singalong numbers, a pointed and spikey script, bouncy and sexy dancing and an array of puppets who hide behind their masters’ voices and sound like a late night, x-rated version of The Muppets!

The musical is based on the American Broadway Tony Award winning smash hit, first produced in 2003 with words and music by Lopez and Marx and from a book written by Jeff Whitty. The cast is a mix of humans and humans ‘armed’ with puppets, the puppets resembling cast members from Sesame Street and The Muppets and the storyline is how these humans and their puppet friends interact with each other, as they bicker, fall out, argue, encourage, sympathise and encourage each other. Set in a downtown section of New York (Avenue Q) the audience is introduced to the main characters when young college boy Princeton moves into a cheap and cheerful tenement block and meets all of the other tenants. The flats’ supervisor is Gary Coleman, a real life (and ill-fated) actor who starred in the hit 1980s comedy ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ as Arnold Jackson and who had the oft repeated catchphrase (and repeated in this production!) of: ‘Whady’a talking bout Willis’ to his long suffering brother. Also in residence is Brian and Christmas Eve a young about to be married couple, Rod who is struggling with openly declaring his homosexuality, his straight friend Nicky, the lovely Kate Monster (who is…er…a monster…) and another of the monster clan, Trekkie, who is very outspoken and yells out ‘Porn’ at every opportunity.

The new kind on the block, Princeton, falls in love with the fairy monster Kate, Rod falls out with his best friend Nicky when he accidentally ‘outs’ him in public and Brian and Christmas Eve bicker and make up as ‘about to be wed’s’ often do. When the lovely Kate gets sacked from her job everything seems to be falling apart for the monsters, puppets and humans on Avenue Q – but then an unexpected source comes to their rescue, they experience a gift dropped in from the heavens and suddenly there appears to be a silver lining in the clouds above the street where they live!

The musical has some very catchy (if not wholly politically correct) numbers including ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’, ‘The Internet is for Porn’ and ‘If You Were Gay’ and the show is very fast paced. It is one of the shorter musicals, and so the action rattles along which means that there are very few lapses, so is very easy on the eye and the concentration! The interaction between the puppets and their human counterparts is very engaging and, with the clever placement of the puppets in relation to their ‘controllers’ (who are dressed in black to merge with the backdrop) it is very easy to find yourself believing completely in the puppets, cheering them on and totally dismissing the Brian Conley catchphrase of ‘It’s Just a Puppet!’.

Acting – difficult. Acting and singing – very difficult. Acting, singing and controlling a puppet while doing the first two – extremely difficult! The talented cast and production teams of the Lichfield Operatic make these three things look very easy to the audience. Newcomer to the team (though not to Lichfield) Anil Patel makes a very assured debut in the leading role as Princeton – a lovely, consistent American accent and a very easy style which allows us to truly believe that he is the love struck puppet and not his human master. Fellow newcomer Lucy Follows is very sweet, vulnerable and tender as the love struck Katie Monster (and it’s hard to achieve a sweet monster I guess!), Pat Jervis and  Pete Beck provide terrific support as ‘desperate to stay in the cupboard’ Rod and best mate Nicky respectively, Adam Lacey plays Brian with verve and is every inch the typical New Yorker  and Kate Pinell puts in a great , funny and talented performance as the Chinese / Japanese wife of Brian ‘Christmas Eve’ who with her black bob and Chinese patois is a world away from her recent role as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. Lucy Surtees plays Lucy The Slut, love rival to Kate Monster, with man eating sexy charm and a hair toss that would rival Miss Piggy, Aaron Morris is excellent as Gary ‘Arnold’ Coleman and Ben Foulds (who many Lichfeldians will know from his singing at various Lichfield venues) is great as the outrageously outspoken Trekkie Monster!
The ensemble cast are all amazing and, as I always say, some of my favourite moments are when al 40+ of the cast are on stage, going for it like their lives depended on it and you can just see their enthusiasm and enjoyment tumbling out over the stage and into the audience – just fantastic!

I watched the dress rehearsal on Monday night and the production was razor sharp, it ran like clockwork with everyone switched on and raring to go for the opening night, very impressive. Direction from James Pugh is spot on, it all runs at a fantastic energetic pace and he draws some excellent performances for the cast. The musical numbers are directed by David Easto and have real ‘Muppetesque’ feel to them, you can almost imagine The Animal in the orchestra pit beating away on the drums! Lively, sexy and ‘combined human and puppet’ choreography is expertly looked after by Charlotte Middleton (seen on the stage as well!) and Steve Rainsford controls the lighting, showing off the puppets and the actors in equal measure.

The show does contain some strong language, adult themes and some views that some may feel are not entirely politically correct or in keeping with their own. But remember, just like Fawlty Towers and The Producers, this is a satire, the writers are trying to show us that if we make fun of these outspoken views and beliefs that we can make them look foolish and insignificant. At the end of the day the characters of Avenue Q show that if everyone works together – humans, puppets and monsters all work together in harmony then they can achieve great things, overcoming racism, sexism and gender issues.

I loved the performance: its funny (you have to listen closely to get all of the jokes!), sharp, ironic, spikey, outrageous, controversial and definitely makes you think. Definitely recommended, if you come along with an open mind I think you will really enjoy it – but try not to come out of the Garrick yelling Trekkie’s favourite line – ‘PORN’ – you may attract some attention!

Avenue Q by the Lichfield Operatic Society is on at the Lichfield Garrick Main Theatre from:
Tuesday 8 May until Saturday 12 May 7.30pm each day, 2.30pm Matinee on Saturday only.

Ticket prices from £18 per person, book at the Lichfield Garrick Box Office on Castle Dyke, Lichfield, ring 01543 412121 email: garrick@lichfieldgarrick.com or visit their website to book online:
https://www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/musicals/avenue-q/114#schedules

 

 

Blood Money – Lichfield Garrick Theatre – Review

Blood Money – Lichfield Players

Lichfield Garrick Studio Theatre

Tuesday 1 May 2018

The latest production from the Lichfield Players is ‘Blood Money’, a dark thriller written by The Heather Brothers and performed in the Studio Theatre at the Garrick.
I’d not heard of this play before but that was a bonus as it has lots of twists, turns and ‘jump out at you’ surprises so trying to play Hercule Poirot and guess the end was all part of the performance.

The action was all set in the home of Mike and Liz Mason, a warring couple on the edge of a marriage break-up (or on the edge of strangling each other) who only keep their rocky relationship above water due to a deadly secret that they both share – seven years ago they were involved in a drunken hit and run car accident when they killed a young girl, Carol Mitchell. Mike is a host of a long running cheesy TV show, Bargain Basement, and was on the way back from a TV Awards ceremony when the accident happened and although it is a distant memory that they have tried to keep to themselves it looks as though someone wants to uncover their shameful secret.
Thrown into the marital ‘bliss’ is sexy next door neighbour Sue who has a crush on Mike, despite being half his age and also the slightly mysterious Julie who, initially,  is heard on the phone and not seen but clearly has the hots for Mike too.
As Mike prepares to attend the latest Awards Ceremony accompanied by a drunk and potentially reputation-destroying Liz the presumed deceased Carol Mitchell seems to step out of the grave and come back to haunt Mike and Liz through phone calls and messages scrawled on walls. When Julie finally appears on the scene as the doctor looking after the emotionally scarred and therapy-seeking Liz all of the key players are thrown into the mix. Jealousy, revenge, mental torture and blood lust all combine in a frenzy of cross and double cross, twist and turn, done it and whodunit until the final, shocking, nerve jangling denouement – but will anyone survive? Who is the victim and who is the killer – and will Carol Mitchell really come back from the grave?

Blood Money is firmly split into two acts, Act One sets the scene of the warring, and philandering, husband and wife, explaining why the couple hate each other and why Mike is so keen to rush into the arms of any woman he meets. It’s clearly a thriller but has lots of dark humour running through it as Mike and Liz spar with each other relentlessly – with shades of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ there are plenty of tart retorts and observational humour to admire.
Act Two is much darker as the plot and mood thicken and it becomes a taut physiological thriller with cat-and-mouse plot manoeuvres, threats, violence and edge of the seat ‘he’s behind you’ moments. Gunshots, bangs, crashes, screams and lights ‘off and on’ add to the menacing mood and the nerves jangle both on the stage and in the audience.
The four performers are all excellent with Andy Jones (last seen as a policeman in The Lady Killers) superb as the bitter, world weary, stuck in a rut TV host looking for his next break and looking to break his marriage to the increasingly paranoid Liz. Sue Evans, who was also in The Lady Killers, is fantastic as the caustic emotionally battered wife Liz, fed up with the multiple affair-seeking Mike and determined to ruin both his big night out at the Awards Ceremony and ruin his extra-marital relationships. Lichfield Players debutant Alex Dziegiel plays the next door neighbour that every philandering male would want living next to him with aplomb and Sarah Stanley (last seen in the anti-Christmas play ‘A Kick in the Baubles’) as the seemingly caring and compassionate family doctor is superb as her doctor’s mask slips to reveal something much more sinister.
Special mention must be given to the performances of Sue Evans and Sarah Stanley in Act Two as the tension ramps up and the plot, and their characters’ minds, gradually unravel and it descends into a nightmare cocktail of accusation, revelation and recrimination. Their performances dominate the stage and the feelings of frustration, anger, fear and hatred that they show in what are very demanding, both emotionally and physically, circumstances are very moving and truly believable – full five star marks to both actors.

The production values are up to the usual high standard at the Garrick Theatre and the lighting, sound effects and set all help the Studio audience enjoy the almost ‘on stage with the actors’ experience. Director Charlie Barker draws fantastic performances from all four actors and provides the perfect balance from the drama mixed with humour of Act One to the dark and brooding menace of Act Two with great skill.

This is a great way to spend an evening at your local theatre – the cast, direction and production are all first class and the play is moving, funny, dark, sad, dangerous and emotionally charged. I won’t spoil the ending for you but it will make you sit up in your seats – it left me with genuine goose bumps and I had to calm the nerves with a strong drink at a local hostelry.

Blood Money will, at times, chill your blood and is definitely great value for money – I would definitely recommend that you give it a run for your money!

Blood Money is on at the Studio at The Lichfield Garrick, on from Wednesday 2 May to Saturday 5 May at 7.45pm, with a matinee on Saturday 5 May at 2.30pm**

Tickets priced at £13.50, to book visit the Lichfield Garrick Box Office during usual opening hours, ring 01543 412121  email: garrick@lichfieldgarrick.comor book online at: www.lichfieldgarrick.com

** Performance contains strong language, violence, loud sounds and visual effects