Innovative Theatre Showcasing More than Meets the Eye
by Louw Mulder
Avenue Q… there’s actually so much to say about this production, currently on stage at the Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre. It’s a puppet show, but it’s an adult play, it’s a superbly composed musical, but it is also a presentation of the fact that South African Theatre is ready to take the next steps towards innovative, edgy and ground-breaking stagings.
Jaco van Rensburg and Wessel Odendaal of VR Theatrical, together with Kosie Smit, present this arrangement in association with Dalro, with the musical staging and direction handled by Timothy le Roux, who I thought outdid himself. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx composed the music and lyrics for Avenue Q, which is based on the book by Jeff Whitty. As the show progresses, the clever tunes slowly swift your initial impression away from the one you entered the theatre with…
Leaving the theatre after the show, I had an idea of what the structure and theme of my review would be. The naughty bits, the catchy tunes of a very clever and well-composed score was still fresh in my mind. But as I reminisced the next day with pen and pad at the ready, the whole realisation of Avenue Q hit home!
The main attraction around Avenue Q, as would be rightfully created by the leading advertising campaigns and publicity views, are the puppets, the main attraction and stars of the show. We have Princeton, the graduate with a BA in English, Rod, the homosexual who himself still has to come to terms with his secret, and then there is Nicky, who is the messy slacker with a bit of a wild side. Adding to the edgy side, is Kate Monster and Lucy, both slightly promiscuous female characters who are in constant search of Princeton’s attention. In my layman’s opinion, I couldn’t find any fault with the visual presentation of the puppets, and compliments with huge respect goes to their creator, Kosie Smit, who breathed life into all 18 puppets featuring each night in this production. Smit, whose passion and love for this show spoke for itself during the build-up to the opening night, is also in charge of the Scenic design, which I thought was stunning.
Nowhere was it ever made a secret that the content of Avenue Q exceeds real edginess, and possibly wouldn’t be seen as appropriate for conservative people, or teens under the age of 16 for that matter. After seeing the show myself, the story of Avenue Q is powerful enough to manipulate anyone’s views on matters that play a part in the lives of each and every one of us. There are puppets having sex on stage, a fair share of swearing, and some will say inappropriate utterances that may offend a lot of diverse theatre goers. Be that as it may, all the profanity and full-frontal nudity is coming from the puppets, which I believe makes all of this more acceptable!
Modern day issues, current-day curveballs and everyday events, are all addressed in a very comic and uproarious fashion. It disguises the hurt and cold truths of life, with the healing power of laughter. I refer to issues such as unemployment, being homeless, losing one’s job and even the rejection of friends and loved ones. The internal struggle with one’s sexuality, and the battle of coming to terms with it, feature prominently in the story, with perfect fit. These are the themes of truths we all face daily, that surface above the whole mosaic of memories when thinking back to Avenue Q, as you are lefty with a final thought… “It’s only for Now!” And yes; Everyone on Avenue Q, are a little bit racist too…
I do believe that the powerful message, which was camouflaged by the magic of humour, was made as effective as it is, due to the production quality. I am totally uneducated and uninformed about the art-form of puppetry, that my enthusiastic raves about Avenue Q may be seen as disproportionate, but I am sure once any theatregoer sits back, let go and enjoy the show, they will be entranced by the same childlike fervour I experienced.
With an edgy and very sharp script, I found it to be effectively complimented by the lyrics of each song. Dawid Boverhoff, Avenue Q Musical Director, did a stellar job, which I think would honestly not have been this powerful without the contribution of the strong and impressive cast. I thought that all their performances were enhanced by their passion and eagerness for this new genre, supported by every unique puppet.
The strong voice of the very talented Ashleigh Harvey, is a definitive sound which I found to illustrate many of the stories’ emotions, which the expressionless puppets had to tell. Her natural style of acting, even though in the shadow of her doll, pulled through in such a perceptible form, that her character’s intended expressions were effortlessly transferred to her puppet.
Alongside Harvey, is Ryan Flynn, who manipulates the lead character, Princeton, as well as the closeted gay republican, Rod. Whether his puppetry techniques were according to academic techniques, I cannot say, but I thought he was amazing throughout both acts. What was totally enchanting for me, was the moment I realised that the personality of Flynn’s character, imperceptibly echoed through his puppet. As impressed as I was with this, so I can cite how I thought the sturdiness of Flynn’s performance somehow kept the rest of the cast on par, which I thought was key to their phenomenal ensemble performances,
The rest of the cast consist of Daniel Geddes, Nieke Lombard, Greame Wicks and Songezo Khumalo whom all, through their puppets and their associating characters, contributed in his or her own right to Avenue Q’s success. Among the craziness of the puppets, are the three real people. For me, the inclusion of human characters added a valuable balance between the deep-cutting themes of the script, and the human reality. Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri, Grant Towers, and the hilariously talented Rebecca Hartle, each played their roles with effortless talent.
If you give me only a half a chance, I will grab the opportunity and fill a few more pages about my raving thoughts on Avenue Q. Older theatre experts may say that my exaggerated praise for this production are excessive, and that I am turning a blind eye to its shortcomings, but I do believe my views are justified, as I experienced a total sense of entertainment, along with the excitement of this brand-new genre introduced to SA Theatre.
As a warning, do not ruin your own Avenue Q experience by watching online video’s of this show, because one, you need to see it live, secondly, this South African production is way better than all the ones online, and thirdly, The Internet’s for Porn..
Due to the gut-busting depth of the text, the complete essence of Avenue Q will be best experienced after seeing the show for the third time. Avenue Q opens this Saturday, 19 May 2018, on stage of the Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, and will run for a limited season. The show plays for 2 hours, 15 minutes, with a 20-minute interval. Parental guidance for younger patrons are advised, as Avenue Q carries an age restriction of 16.