Everyone loves a filthy puppet. From the power-vomiting shenanigans of Team America: World Police to the saucy wit of Australia’s one and only drag queen puppet, Queen Miss Left Titter, there’s just something innately satisfying about seeing an inanimate object come to life, only to spout wildly offensive jokes.
Maybe we’re just that much more likely to accept dirty comic material when it’s delivered by someone with a hand up their bum.
Avenue Q, a wildly popular Broadway musical that has toured the world since its inception in 2003, is a smorgasbord of filthy puppet behaviour. The show is loosely based on Sesame Street, but with songs like I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today and The Internet Is For Porn, it’s definitely M-rated viewing.
It’s not a show for kids, that’s for sure, Q director Jonathan Biggins told Sydney Star Observer.
It’s a bit risque. Any teenager’s going to love it, but it’s not for the younger kids. I’ve got two
daughters who are nine and 10 years old -” they’ve seen one rehearsal, but that’s quite enough!
With a fantastic human cast including celebrated theatre actor Mitchell Butel and TV star Michaela Banas (playing -˜Lucy the Slut’ -“ won’t that sit nicely on her resume alongside McLeod’s Daughters?), the show is an unusual mix of people and puppets. There are no smoke-and-mirrors attempts to disguise the actors on stage; rather, they perform in sync with their puppet counterparts.
In this show, the puppet and the actor are considered equally important, so we don’t make any attempt to disguise or hide the actors working the puppets, Biggins said.
They inform the puppet, and the puppet informs them -” the performance becomes an amalgam of the two. It’s a very different style of puppetry.
It’s a style that presents its own set of challenges, as the actors on stage have to keep attention on the puppets they’re manipulating.
The actor has to be very careful not to do anything the puppet doesn’t do -” they have to do everything together. They have to be united.
The discipline is incredible, particularly for those puppets that are actually operated by two people, which makes it even trickier for them.
For many people (yes, even the theatre-loving homos amongst us), musicals can be something of a turn-off. Biggins hopes Avenue Q will offer an antidote to the traditionally saccharine world of musical theatre.
It’s very irreverent. Someone described it as -˜Sesame Street meets South Park’, and that’s not a recipe you’d normally see in the musical theatre world. I think that’s what makes it so attractive. It’s more of a Generation X or Y show than your average musical.
While the show’s humour is biting and at times X-rated, it’s never mean-spirited. Songs like If You Were Gay and Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist might take the piss, but they also hold underlying messages of inclusion.
That’s the beauty of it, Biggins said.
It’s like The Simpsons and Family Guy and other shows that are supposedly dysfunctional and immoral; they actually have a very strong moral core.
The message of this show is inclusion and tolerance. It’s saying, come on, let’s lighten up, get on with each other and get over ourselves, and the world will be a better place. It is very much a positive message.
You can also get away with a lot more if you’re using a puppet -” if it were Marina Prior on stage belting out The Internet Is For Porn, the reception might be somewhat different (alt-hough let’s face it, there’s probably a small but loyal audience for that sort of thing).
We do really subvert the innocence of Sesame Street, but the puppets are so cute and cuddly, they kind of get away with it.
I suspect Australian audiences won’t find it quite as outrageous as American audiences do -” I think the Americans are quite easily offended. There are definitely some -˜whoa’ moments though… like when you’re watching two puppets having it off during a one-night stand.
Beyond the filth factor, Biggins says audiences will be also surprised at just how much emotion these fairly rudimentary puppets are capable of displaying.
People have been surprised by how engaging and moving these puppets are -” you actually do feel very strongly for them. Puppeteers can animate these inanimate objects to make you think they’re alive. You laugh with them, but you’re also moved with them.
It’s incredible because these are your real traditional -˜Bert and Ernie’-style puppets, just with a simple mouth that opens and shuts. You think, how on earth is this puppet expressing all these complex emotions?