When The Book of Mormon landed in the West End, its mix of profanity and warmth came as a surprise to some - but not to those who had enjoyed the same mix in Robert Lopez’s earlier work, which now receives a rapturous, self-assured fringe debut.
Katie Bradley, Josh Wilmott and Cassandra Lee in Avenue Q at the Gatehouse Theatre, London Photo: Polly Hancock
Set in a world where puppets and humans live alongside each other in a scenario anyone brought up with Sesame Street will find familiar, a collection of young adults face up to the reality of growing up.
With half the cast being constructed from felt and fur, there is a continuity of look such that anyone familiar with Avenue Q’s five-year West End run or UK tour will recognise most of the characters immediately, save for one or two bafflingly bizarre reworkings. The skill in any puppet show, of course, comes from the operators, and this is where this fringe production excels, bringing the principal characters to life - no doubt enhanced by the production’s associate director, Simon Lipkin, having originated Nicky/Trekkie in the West End. It is his counterpart here, Josh Wilmott, who consistently provides the best performances, elevating already hilarious lines with an affinity for puppetry and superb comic timing.
All the puppeteers cope with their dual or triple roles excellently, but none better than Leigh Lothian, whose Kate and Lucy frequently interact with each other - a feat she makes seem effortless.
This show may, as its closing song suggests, be only for now - but while it’s here, it can’t help but warm all but the cruellest of hearts.