Avenue Q, review: Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, until November 2

Avenue Q
Avenue Q

Nothing quite compares to Avenue Q.

It is adventurous, unconventional and audaciously funny, and it is entertaining both addicts and new converts at the Devonshire Park Theatre this week.

Truthfully, Avenue Q might now have a limited shelf-life; either that, or a significant overhaul of the book and lyrics, because some references feel dated. Even in the short years since the show opened in 2003, for instance, gender issues are a little less sensitive and more mainstream, and the Gary Coleman character has faded in the memory.

But it is still a brilliant and distinctive show: not a mere footnote in musical theatre, but a true landmark along the way. It entertains, but takes no prisoners. A clutch of issues is tackled boldly and provocatively.

Racism, sexual orientation, alcoholism, anxiety, social deprivation: all the themes swirl like the underwear in the tumble dryer, bouncing and flurrying their way through a wonderful list of musical numbers. The treatment is sometimes exquisitely painful, always irresistibly funny, and with breathless tempo and uncrushable zest.

Cecily Redman’s Kate Monster is perfect: endearing, vulnerable, learning her way through life. Her Fine, Fine Line – the best number in the show – is beautifully delivered.

Robbie Noonan is listed only as cover Princeton but goodness, on Monday’s performance he had it nailed: chastened and changed and, by the end of the show, still keeping the optimism alive.

In a genuine ensemble show – Ellis Dackombe as a pricelessly vulgar Trekkie Monster is also a cover – there is seamless teamwork and incredibly slick timing, energy and manipulation of the furry friends.

Not that the puppets are a hindrance. Within minutes, we are treating them as real people and the success of the puppetry is that you actually stop noticing the puppeteers. Of the live characters, Oliver Stanley’s Brian is a nice balance of amiable and slob, Nicholas McLean a beaming but poignant Gary Coleman, and Saori Oda brings a formidable edge to her “tell it like it is” Christmas Eve character. Jessica Parker, Jasmine Beal and Chloe Gentles expertly complete the company.

So much to admire, then. No reservations? Some of the Act One numbers seemed a tad over-amplified on the first night at the Devonshire Park, but they’ll have no doubt adjusted that by now.

It also pretty rude, but then you probably knew that. The rudeness is impertinent rather than offensive, and never out of character with the show as a whole. The frankness is an integral part of Q’s mission. Perhaps everyone truly is “a little bit racist”? Maybe there is a Schadenfreude in all of us? And as for the odious appetites of Trekkie Monster… Avenue Q beams its torch into the dark corners.

The show may still have legs for future tours, but if this happens to be an Avenue Q farewell, catch it now. It is like nothing else in the musical theatre repertoire, and this company does it true justice.

Tickets cost £25-£34.50 (discounts available). Call 01323 412000 or purchase tickets online at www.eastbournetheatres.co.uk.

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