Vaudeville Theatre, London – until 11 June 2016
This show is depicted on the poster as “if Avenue Q and Book Of Mormon had a love child it would be Hand To God”. The quote sets the scene perfectly for a shockingly irreverent but deliciously wicked and deeply dark evening of entertainment.
The action takes place in the basement of a church and appears to be like an after school class called “puppet practice”. We see a mother fighting to get over her grief of losing her husband, whilst bringing up her son who blames himself for his father’s death and who has an enormous amount of pent-up anger. Add to this equation, if you will, a boy who has a crush on the mother, a girl who is desperately sexually frustrated, and a pastor who makes a lame pass at the mother, along with some puppets, and you’ve got Hand to God. Admittedly, this sounds completely bonkers and there will be many who won’t appreciate or get it. However, most of you will know that I don’t shy away from different or quirky and this is certainly one of those shows.
The mother Margery played brilliantly by firm West End favourite Janie Dee, although you’ll never quite think of her in the same way again after seeing this show, appears at first to be doing extremely well in coping with her grief but you rapidly see her fall apart. Harry Melling as son Jason/Tyrone whose anger erupts from him via his self-created hand puppet Tyrone. Taking on a persona of being possessed Melling for me was really the star of the show along with the clever writing of Robert Askins and direction of Moritz Von Stuelpnagel.
Now about the dialogue it’s fast, sometimes chaotic, totally irreverent and you often feel you shouldn’t be laughing but can’t help yourself. There are huge splurges of foul-mouthed humour in this show but it works.
Neil Pearson as the pastor has some of the quick throw away one liners that are brilliantly executed and thankfully are not lost in the chaos which ensued. Jemima Rooper comes into her own in the second act and whilst I’m not giving too much away, how she kept a straight face during the “puppet sex scene” is beyond me. Kevin Mains as lusting teenager was hilarious a carbon copy of what we all would expect of a modern “Mrs Robinson” moment.
Photo credit Tristram Kenton
If you are looking for a lovely little show with hand puppets then this isn’t it – however if you are looking for Avenue Q meets the Book of Mormon then this will be right up your street!
Hand to God – West End until 11th June
By Caroline Hanks-Farmer