Directed by Justin Driscoll
St Neots has never seen anything quite like Avenue Q!
Most of its characters are puppets, but this is definitely not a children’s show! It is a mischievous and often raunchy look at the challenges young adults face as they try to make their way in the big city.
Avenue Q is the story of Princeton, a bright-eyed college grad who comes to New York with a big dream and a tiny bank account. He soon discovers that the only neighbourhood in his price range is Avenue Q; still, the neighbours seem nice. Together, Princeton and his new-found friends struggle to find jobs, dates, and their ever-elusive purpose in life.
Sesame Street for grown-ups, with filthy minded puppets who teach useful lessons like ‘The Internet is for Porn’.
We may not have all the details for this production, if you have any pictures or information please let us know!
Lucy the Slut
Bad Idea Bear #1
Bad Idea Bear #2
Emma Driscoll (Evans)
Cheeky Llama Productions
Lighting & Sound
Dave & Kate Maltby
Friends of VAMPS
Front of House Manager
Front of House team
Members of VAMPS & St Neots Players
Priory Centre, St Neots
Author: Julie Armstrong
Avenue Q is a great musical and I was very much looking forward to what VAMPS were going to offer, wondering how well they would be able to execute the new skills required to successfully pull off this show. I was very warmly welcomed by the front of house team and, despite the initial ticketing mishap, I did manage to find a seat – luckily there were a couple left for that evening’s performance. Hanging above the stage was a large Avenue Q logo which I was reliably informed was painstakingly jigsawed to give the fur effect round the edges – very impressive work!
The show began with a short video presentation on the wall, introducing us to the Avenue Q theme, played by the 5 piece band which was ably led by Alana Thackray. I understand from the programme that Alana was drafted in at the last minute to save the day, following the sad departure of the previous MD on doctor’s orders. Very well done to Alana and the band for an impressive performance with just 3 weeks to prepare. I would say that they were rather loud at times, making it difficult to hear the actors comfortably, however I was seated towards the front quite close to the band, so perhaps we can forgive them.
As the curtains opened, the street of painted houses (from Cheeky Llama Productions) with some amusing silhouettes in the windows, set the scene. So far, so good and I was hopeful for a great show to come. The puppetry required for this musical necessitates a whole new skill set, where the performer must not only act and sing themselves, but also operate their puppet character at the same time, ensuring that both are constantly acting and reacting together. You have achieved this when we, the audience, are watching the puppet, rather than the actor, but let one of these slip and the illusion is lost.
Tony Watson and Emma Driscoll introduced us to Princeton, who is new to Avenue Q and looking for his purpose in life, and Kate Monster, a regular resident of the street. Both actors here did a great job, with Kate stealing the show for me. The vocal used for this character and her accent were both superb and Kate has a great singing voice. Her facial expressions were excellent and, as the puppets’ faces are of course motionless, this made a huge difference to the audience’s appreciation of the characters’ feelings throughout the show. Tony provided Princeton with a fantastic speaking voice which I loved and his accent was spot on for this character, although some of the songs were a little pitchy at times and Tony, please plant those feet firmly on the floor – there was a bit of shuffling and drifting going on. Exaggerated facial expressions would have endeared us to your character more too. That said, you did a good job of bringing Princeton to life for us and were perfect for the character, so well done.
Paul Riddy and Keith Jenkinson gave us Nicky and Rod respectively. Great characterisation from these gentlemen and again, super accents and vocalisation. Their duets were brilliantly staged and had the audience laughing along with them. Abbie Miles had the thankless task of hanging on to the back of Paul’s belt and following him at close proximity round the stage, as second puppeteer for Nicky. She did extremely well at matching Paul’s hand movements so that the puppet was in sync and the two actors worked well together. Again Paul gave the audience some great facial play, adding much to the character, although there were times when Nicky was not looking directly at the character he was supposed to be interacting with. Keith was spot on as Rod and played the character beautifully. His “Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada” had us in stitches. Rod and Nicky’s duet, “Fantasies Come True” was lovely and the choreographed dream sequence a delight.
Max Caldicott played the role of Brian and although the character is a little more shy and downtrodden by his partner Christmas Eve, I found Max to be a bit too quiet on occasion, making it hard to hear him over the band. The puppetry here was good and his characterisation lovely; just a little more projection would have moved this from a good to a great performance. Laura Blackmore played Christmas Eve, capturing the character well. She perhaps had one of the hardest vocals to master, doing a good job with the “Asian-American” accent but also having to portray the sometimes fiery nature of Christmas Eve. On these occasions I found it hard to distinguish the lines as it came across as rather screechy, although I do appreciate that this was due to the nature of the character coupled with the required accent. “The More You Ruv Someone” was excellent and Laura gave us some fantastic facial expression to accompany her puppet as she sang. A great job from Laura in this role, which is played by a live actor rather than a puppet, in professional productions.
Another character usually played by an actor is Gary Coleman, given to us here in puppet form by Caro Watson. Caro gave a solid performance and “Loud As The Hell You Want” was brilliantly funny. Somehow, watching puppet sex had me squirming uncomfortably in my seat, yet wanting to watch at the same time. That is a scene I can never ‘unsee’ – hilarious!
Luke Powell (working alongside second puppeteer Francesca Maddocks) voiced Trekkie Monster perfectly and “The Internet Is For Porn” showed us some great characterisation as Trekkie tried his best to keep quiet but in the end could not help himself! Lucy The Slut was well played by Peta Riley, who gave us her slinkiest performance as we first met her in the Around The Clock Club. A great character, and the only one the audience is supposed to dislike as she seduces the naive Princeton, I would have liked Peta to go really over the top and over-dramatise this more. Peta, you are clearly far too nice to play the slut! Having said that, I did enjoy your portrayal of Lucy and you had the audience laughing at “Special”, well done! The Bad Idea Bears, played by Katie Kitson and Sam Eggins, were a joy. Just watch the diction from time to time with screeching celebratory ‘yeahs!’ but I thought the facial expressions and vocals were particularly good – well done to both.
With Emily Cole, Danielle Williams, Abbie Miles and Francesca Maddocks all making up the ensemble, this was a talented cast led by Director Justin Driscoll, who produced an excellent piece of theatre, along with production manager Tom Monkhouse. There were some lovely touches, notably the For Rent sign, moving boxes, the Nokia ringtone, and Trekki Monster’s inspired climactic confetti cannon! Sound and lighting were good, as always, from Dave & Kate Maltby. For me, Act I had more pizzazz, with the closing number delivered beautifully by Emma Driscoll, who showed great technique in acting through song here. The opening of Act II felt a little shaky and had some questionable harmonies at the start, but this was soon remedied as everyone regained their stride – and the finale number “For Now” had everyone tapping their feet and clapping their hands in appreciation.
It can be a “fine, fine line” between professional and some amateur productions nowadays and this performance of Avenue Q took it right to the wire. Congratulations to VAMPS on one of their best yet.