I’ve never been one for schmaltzy romance. In my opinion, every rose has its thorns – accept too many roses and you’re liable to end up with a prick. So when my editor asked if I would like to spend Valentine’s Day reviewing the dissident, romantically-irreverent musical Avenue Q in Bromley, I jumped at the chance.
Naturally, being far too terrified to ever ask anyone I fancy on a date (hence the unrivalled bitterness towards Saint Valentine) I took along my friend Molly. Who, considering she agreed to travel all the way to Bromley on a Monday night just so that I wouldn’t have to see the show alone, may actually be in the running to become the love of my life.
I’d never seen Avenue Q, although I’d heard a lot about it. It was hugely hyped back in 2006 when Cameron Mackintosh brought it from Broadway to the West End. At the time the West End’s musical scene was looking decidedly dusty, and a shiny new show featuring potty-mouthed muppets and songs such as Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist seemed just the thing to blow the cobwebs away.
Avenue Q is structured like a classic educational children’s programme; full of primary colours, instructional videos and friendly adults in dungarees. The only difference is that rather than focussing on subjects such as friendship and listening, Avenue Q explores issues such as internet porn and post-graduate unemployment.
Unfortunately, despite being just as crude and irreverent as promised, this show is disappointing. For a start the material is dated. Back in 2003, when Avenue Q was first produced, the idea of taking witty adult material and formatting it in the style of a children’s programme was still relatively new. But nowadays, following the huge commercial success of movies and TV shows such as Team America and Family Guy, this concept has become too great a part of blockbuster culture to be truly subversive.
The script also feels creaky; jokes concerning minor American celebrities such as Judge Judy and Gary Coleman fail to pick up many laughs among an English audience. And out-dated references to the internet (when was the last time you sent an e-card?) remind one just how much has changed in the past eight years.
The performers themselves, though clearly talented, seem uncomfortable in the space. Touring can be an unsettling experience for any ensemble, and their noticeable lack of confidence makes the production flat.
Having said this, the one part of the show that did work for me was the story of Rod and Nicky, two characters based on the famously closeted Sesame Street roommates Bert and Ernie. This is really the only narrative in Avenue Q that still feels culturally relevant. As, for some unknown reason, homosexuality remains a woefully underrepresented subject in children’s entertainment (though the magnificent Russell T Davies of Doctor Who is doing his best to change this in the UK). It was therefore rather touching to hear Rod express his unrequited love for Nicky. And lyrics such as “If you were queer I’d still be here year after year because you’re dear!” had the audience laughing.
Funny in places, this show is good for an evening of simple entertainment, but it’s unlikely to blow you away. After two and a quarter hours I was glad to take the love of my life and head home.
Avenue Q is playing at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley until 19th March. Tickets can be brought online here.