Boy arrives in New York, boy meets monster, boy falls for monster, boy dumps monster after being seduced by sleazy night club singer (Lucy the Slut). The boy in question is Princeton, a wet-behind-the-ears English graduate who's just left the security of college and the family home for the big city, hoping to find his "higher purpose" only to discover that he's not nearly as special as he's always been led to believe that, not to put too fine a point on it, life's not fair.
It's the basic plot of a thousand Broadway hits and, in many ways, that's just what Avenue Q is - it's no surprise to find that one character (Rod the Republican, who is definitely not gay) spends his spare time reading an encyclopaedia of 1940s musicals.
Avenue Q's main point of cultural reference is Sesame Street. Yet whilst it has many of the familiar features of the children's TV classic – puppets, monsters and simple up-beat songs – it applies them to adult themes. From the outset, it satirizes attitudes to race, sex, sexuality, pornography, poverty and homelessness in ways that would be shocking and discomforting in the mouths of human actors, but which puppets can somehow get away with. Despite the apparent modernity of the production there is something here that harks back to the Elizabethan fool or even the masked comedies of Ancient Greece.
Getting the puppetry right is essential to the success of the show. As director Guy Brigg explained, this means ensuring that the puppets and puppeteers (who are acting and singing and who remain visible throughout) work as a single entity with the same expressions and body language. The considerable thought and hard work that has gone into this has paid off, resulting in a smooth, professional performance.
Acting and singing are of the high standard that we have come to expect of Oxford Operatic Society, with particularly fine performances from Guy Grimsley (Princeton), Nicola Taylor (Kate Monster) and Andrew Stott (Rod) and the whole piece works well in the intimate surroundings of The Theatre at Headington.
Apparently, Avenue Q has a bit of a cult following amongst younger fans of musical theatre. Despite not belonging to that particular demographic and having no prior knowledge of the show, I actually quite enjoyed it - so, even if you think it's not quite "your thing", it may be worth giving it a go.
(There's some explicit sexual content involving puppets and occasional strong language – the production team suggests an age guideline of 14+.)