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Avenue Q will shock you with what used to be shocking

Avenue Q at Royal & Derngate in Northampton until Saturday

If you fancy a quick situation report on how far we’ve come lately you could do worse than spending the evening on Avenue Q.

If you are not aware of this 16-year-old Broadway hit that is still touring for adoring fans then think of a bawdy spoof of Sesame Street.

It’s as though someone watched the beloved puppet driven children’s educational show and decided it needed an injection of rites of passage style grit.

The setting is a down at heel area of New York, everyone is struggling for the rent but not for dreams – except for new kid on the block Princeton who is not even sure what he should be wishing for.

A mix of puppet and human characters take us on a classic musical theatre ride through love gained and lost and won back – mocking the liberal certainties of the times with gleeful songs such as Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist and The Internet is for Porn.

Back in 2003 these would have played as pointed reminders that the neo-liberal multicultural wonderland driven by a digital revolution might not be as straightforward as it sounds.

In 2019 I found myself reflecting that not only is the internet for porn, it is for grooming children to become terrorists and sucking people into personalised virtual dystopias in which someone somewhere lines their pockets convincing you your worst fears are coming true.

Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist – in a world where the far right has advocates who take their place in mainstream forums and asylum seekers get rounded up and put into camps that little home truth plays less like an admonition against self-righteousness and more like a “yeah and?”

Don’t get me wrong Avenue Q is not irrelevant to us now, it’s just relevant in a different way. Thanks to its bold and truthful take on life back then, it’s a real measure of the mess we have got ourselves in now.

The performances are great, for me Cecily Redman as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut really stands out for vocal range and ability to skip deftly between characters.

Cecily Redman

The queasiest moment was watching Saori Oda playing on racial stereotypes as Christmas Eve – a ball-busting Asian wife with a heart of gold. There was no getting away from the fact that this was a mainly white middle class audience watching an Asian woman getting laughs out of singing in an exaggerated Asian accent. Great performance though.

Above all Avenue Q is great fun and if you haven’t seen it take your chance while it’s here. It wears its politically correct credentials lightly and will put a smile on your face. It may well be your only chance to see sex between puppets done really well.

The suggested age limit is 14 and up, which is probably about right but you know your kids best…

Find out more about Avenue Q at Royal & Derngate here

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