Just when you thought puppets couldn’t get any more streetwise along came Avenue Q to take the genre to a new wickedly hilarious, cheeky and uproariously entertaining level, writes Nick Smurthwaite.
Following five years in the West End and sell-out runs worldwide (packed with mischief, bad behaviour and political incorrectness) this hugely entertaining (14 plus only)show is hitting the road on a brand new tour! and arriving at the Victoria Theatre Halifax on September 29 for five days.
The idea of a show in which the puppets and the puppeteers worked side by side, with no attempt to create an illusion of ventriloquy, was revolutionary.
What surprised everyone, including the creators of Avenue Q, was how audiences focussed on the puppets rather than the puppeteers during the performance. This was achieved partly by the attention-grabbing appearance of the puppets, with their big googly eyes and garishly coloured skin and clothes, and partly by the ingenuity of the puppeteers themselves.
This was puppeteering as it had rarely been seen before in mainstream theatre - in your face and larger than life.
“It’s actually a really difficult thing to do,” says Nigel Plaskitt, who has been operating puppets and training puppeteers for nearly 40 years. “You’ve got to play the character, create his or her voice, animate this creature on your arm and become so expert at the lip-synching that you don’t even have to think about it. There is a lot going on.”
In the eight years he has worked on various productions of Avenue Q. During the 1980s and 90s, Plaskitt worked for the Jim Henson Company as well as on TV’s Spitting Image. It was one of the Sesame Street team in New York who suggested he work on the London transfer of Avenue Q, produced by Cameron Mackintosh.
“This wasn’t a show attacking Sesame Street, or even mocking it; rather, it showed how much affection people had for it,” Plaskitt explains.
Working alongside master puppet-maker Paul Jomain, who also worked for the Jim Henson Company in the past, Plaskitt has tried to make the Avenue Q puppets as user-friendly as possible.
“Operating puppets can be very tiring. Paul’s puppets are very light to hold but even so it can be quite uncomfortable being in the same position for 20 minutes at a time.”