Avenue Q

This adult puppet show is the perfect mix of 'show tunes, satire and seediness'

Avenue Q is the all-singing, all-dancing, all-swearing, all-clothes-shedding puppet show, and tonight it's at Belfast's Grand Opera House. The main difference between this musical spectacular and the likes of The Muppet Show or Sesame Street is that Trekkie Monster, Lucy the Slut et al are more likely to strip off or come out of the closet than teach kids how to count to ten.

Direct from the West End, the Tony Award-winning comedy is decidedly adult in nature. There are a few younger audience members present for tonight’s sold-out opening performance, but essentially this is 18-rated stuff.

Yet despite the bad language, the bawdy jokes and the simulated puppet sex – as funny as it is sounds, and twice as disturbing – Avenue Q actually has a lot of heart. The show hasn’t remained a hit for nearly ten years simply due to a few naughty words.

Though set in a downmarket street in an unspecified borough of New York, Avenue Q’s themes are universal. No matter where you live in the world, songs like ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’, ‘The Internet Is for Porn’ and ‘What Do You Do with a BA in English?’ are relevant. And who doesn’t get off on a bit of ‘Schadenfreude’ from time to time? (Indeed, this writer curses the fact that none of the cast forget their lines or fall over during this song.)

Through these smartly constructed musical numbers (that manage to stay just the right side of Broadway pastiche), Avenue Q tackles a wide range of issues, from inadequacy, insecurity and jealousy to racism, homophobia and homelessness. It has the look of a Jim Henson venture, but if Avenue Q has a kindred spirit it is probably Family Guy, with its similar mix of show tunes, satire and seediness.

The actors in the current touring production, some of whom have been with Avenue Q for years, embrace their roles with energy. Adam Pettigrew mixes innocence and frustration as idealistic college grad Princeton, Chris Thatcher makes for an imposing, pornography-obsessed Trekkie Monster, Katharine Moraz balances sassiness and sternness as kindergarten teacher Mrs Thistletwat and Rachel Jerram switches seamlessly between lovelorn Kate Monster and the incorrigible Lucy the Slut.

Meanwhile, the actors without foam alter egos – Edward Judge and Jacqueline Tate as human couple Brian and Christmas Eve, and Matthew J Henry as slumming-it landlord Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman) – help keep the show rooted in the almost-real world, allowing the puppet characters to get satirical.

The evening culminates in a well-deserved standing ovation. Belfast has taken Avenue Q to its heart. As CultureNorthernIreland leaves the theatre, we see couples embracing, old friends laughing and new ones being made. After all, as tonight’s closing song says, everything is only ‘For Now’.

Avenue Q runs at the Grand Opera House until June 25. Book tickets via What's On.