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Theatre Review: Aveune Q *****

Scott Purvis reviews 'one of the most enjoyable, most surprisingly meaningful musicals doing the rounds right now'.

Puppet Princeton has a problem - he's studied hard at university and walked out with a BA in English and absolutely none of the skills needed to navigate the adult world. Lonely and unguided, he soon finds himself in Avenue Q, a rundown New York neighbourhood with all of the residential charm of bolthole in Hell's Kitchen, and meets a host of furry-hearted, filthy-minded new friends. Like a post-watershed episode of Sesame Street, he soon learns about one-night stands, boozy nights out and what people do online when they're not buying things on Amazon...

Now on its third-UK tour, Avenue Q is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable, most surprisingly meaningful musicals doing the rounds right now - it is a hilarious celebration of what it means to be human, which could only be told through the high-pitched voices of fluffy little monsters. Here, Jeff Whitty's book and Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's songs probe at everything in our lives from racism to sexuality, online dating to sex. The impact is an instantly endearing, witty piece which stitches the profound truth of the human condition with warm orange felt.

It's incredible how effortlessly the puppetry works in this show. This isn't a seaside Punch and Judy of clunky figures - the actors and the puppets are in perfect harmony, allowing the worlds of fantasy and reality to melt like a chocolate biscuit in Cookie Monster's mouth. The cast are uniformly excellent and the audience adore them, with Nicholas McLean's Gary Coleman a particular highlight, but it is understudy Megan Armstrong's performance as Kate Monster which hits hardest.

In tones clear as a mountain stream, the nuance of her mannerisms and comic performance brings life to her puppet like the Blue Fairy enchanting the wooden Pinocchio. Her performance of "There's a Fine, Fine Line", the show's torch song ballad, hangs in the air like the ghost of an old relationship, a powerful and painful reminder of what it is to temper the naivety of love with the cold realism of a break-up.

This show is the perfect combination of humour and heart. When Avenue Q opened on Broadway in 2003, it had the audacity and tenacity to take on the Universal Studios-funded Wicked, Boy George's Taboo and Caroline, or Change, a little-known musical written by the Pulitzer-winning Tony Kushner. With cuddly lil' puppets singing songs about fulfilment and sex, this seemed to be an underdog which would be put to sleep at the Tony Awards. But it won Best Musical. And Best Book. And Best Score.

Over fifteen years later, the show is still as plucky and fun as it was in the early 2000s. Whilst it may have become something of a period piece with its references to Gary Coleman and mix-tapes, it remains relevant in a way that some musicals playing in the West End would envy. This is a show about life which strikes at the soul better than most musicals. It draws vivid, colourful pictures of humanity with every colour in the Crayola set, and has audiences crying with laughter and gasping with shock in equal measures.

Reviewed at Glasgow King's Theatre. Run ended.

Tags: theatre

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