Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Avenue Q" - May 2012 (Catching up)

Adult puppet musical "Avenue Q" had been on our 'to do' list for a couple of years, but the timings never seemed to work for us on our London visits, and I resented paying 'London prices' when it previously toured to Glasgow.  Fortunately, this time round we managed to track down a 2 for 1 offer - but after seeing the skill and energy involved we were left in no doubt that even at full price it would have been value for money.

While it's not unusual for us to come out of a theatre saying that it was exhausting just watching it, it's literally true of this show, because 'watching' isn't quite as simple as you might think.  The puppet stars of the show are animated and voiced by one or two operators visible on stage, and my initial thought was to ignore the performers and focus on the puppets.  But I quickly realised that doing so was to ignore half of the show as the human operators use their own expressions and movements to complement those of their puppet characters.  The trick is to be able to focus on the puppet characters and their operators simultaneously, and while we're not talking about something akin to 'magic eye' pictures, it's certainly an acquired skill - one that does take concentration.

And that wasn't the only element that I had to make a conscious effort over.  The inclusion of the character of former child star "Gary Coleman" - to make the other characters realise their lives could be so much worse - was for me, in desperately poor taste. Even more so, after a quick google during the interval revealed that Coleman was unhappy about it.  To continue with the character after Coleman's death in 2010 is unforgivable - so much so that if I had been aware of the character's role beforehand I probably wouldn't have booked the tickets.  Looking around online it seems I'm in a small minority offended by this - but it's such a dated cultural reference that I would have hoped that regardless of any sensitivities they would have reworked/updated it by now.

Nevertheless, if you're unperturbed by all that (or can simply put it out of your mind for a couple of hours as I did) there is a huge amount of fun to be had.  While the emphasis is definitely on the comedy, it doesn't come at the expense of the musical numbers which are polished, memorable and impressively sung by the cast.  Just remember that this is very much an Adult show with a capital A.  If you are unsure if it will be to your taste, Youtube may be your friend.

Avenue Q has completed an extensive UK tour.  Future dates will be available on the show's website.
Image by Nick Spratling used with permission


Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Stones in His Pockets" - July 2012

I guess it's somewhat appropriate that a show that sees two actors inhabit 15 characters and has a significant change of tone between acts, has left me struggling with my own split personality. One part of me was happy to be swept along by two phenomenal performances from Keith Fleming and Robbie Jack who have taken a lightning change act to a whole new level. We've become used to seeing plays cut down or restaged to accomodate small casts, although the performances almost always involve a brief pause between characters, an additional prop or a quick exit/entrance. But here Fleming and Jack often morph seamlessly right in front of your eyes. The problem is that another part of me, while appreciating the skill involved, sees it as a way of covering over what is at times rather weak material.

In fact, the first half of the show left me pretty cold and feeling that it was over-reliant on the inherent amusement value of the performance style. I couldn't help thinking that had it been played with a 'full' cast I'm not sure I would have even broken into a smile. And that's the 'comic' half of the show. It's disappointing, as a show based on the events when a Hollywood production descends on a rural Irish community should be ripe for comic scenes more than capable of standing on their own merits.

Fortunately, I found myself enjoying the second act significantly more. It wasn't that it was funnier, but perhaps the more serious tone to it made for a more even script where I was no longer expecting to be laughing out loud. It also finally managed to generate a level of interest that I'd been previously missing as the balance of power shifted between film-makers and the extras.  But even in its best moments I found the play frustrating in its simplistic treatment of drug use, one sided stance on cultural exploitation and use of media in-jokes and caricatures.

The performances will make or break any production of Marie Jones' play and Fleming and Jack make the absolute most out of it - their curtain call alone makes it worth seeing.

We received our tickets for the show through our membership of the Tron's Patrons scheme which we thoroughly recommend for anyone who is a regular attendee at the Tron.

Stones in His Pockets runs at the Tron until 21st July
Image by John Johnston used with permission