Political incorrectness with puppets

Avenue Q is being performed at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from July 9-14.
Avenue Q is being performed at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from July 9-14.
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A production of puppets, Princeton and finding your purpose in life is arriving at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton this Monday.

Running at the theatre until July 14, one of the West End’s biggest hits, Avenue Q, is a tale of a young college graduate who moves to the Big Apple, desperately trying to follow his dreams.

But there aren’t just humans who will be performing – there are also puppets.

The Tony Award-winning musical features a cast of three humans and nine puppets, as they tackle subjects such as racism, being gay and finding your place in the world.

Not suitable for children under the age of 12, the production is full of political incorrectness.

Puppet designer, Nigel Plaskitt, says: ‘The premise of the show is the characters from Sesame Street. Fortunately a lot of the angst from the TV show’s fans was sorted when it opened in New York.

‘But I think people realised that this is a more affectionate look at what life would be like after Sesame Street.’

The story follows Princeton, a bright-eyed college graduate who is new to the area. A tiny bank balance, the distraction of a busty blonde, and a variety of weird and wonderful friends and neighbours, lead Princeton on a story of self-discovery.

Set in downtown New York, it features songs such as What Do You Do with a BA in English?, My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada and I Wish I Could Go Back To College.

Nigel says: ‘The show is really about relationships and growing up, but also tackles subjects that would be difficult if you didn’t have the puppets.

‘The puppets really help to inject a little humour.’

But a particularly difficult staging problem is that the actors are visible at all times, and have to act through the puppets.

Nigel explains: ‘Using the puppets is like wearing a mask, because they don’t have any expressions – only their body language.

‘So, if one of the puppeteers is struggling to think about how to make their puppet look, say sad, I just tell them to put the puppet down and act the scene in the mirror.’

The production is being staged by associate director, Evan Ensign, who has previously worked with the musical on Broadway.

After opening at the Golden Theatre on Broadway in 2003, Avenue Q scooped the 2003 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding New Musical, and in 2004 the show won three Tony Awards for Best New Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score.

Tickets cost £10 to £31.50 from the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton on (023) 8071 1811 or go to mayflower.org.uk.