Hand to God – Review
It is not surprising that when a new play is described as ‘Wickedly Funny’ and a puppet is hailed as the main character, that ‘Avenue Q’ springs to mind. However Hand to God which has opened at the Vaudeville Theatre in London couldn’t be more different. In both Avenue Q and Hand to God the basic premise is a group of people dealing with their problems, but that is where the similarity between the two shows end.
Hand to God is conceived and written by Robert Askins and is also currently running on Broadway where it was nominated for no less than five Tony awards.
So what is Hand to God about?
Hand of God is set in a Church Hall where recently widowed Margery (Janie Dee) presides over a puppet making class, the aim of which is to give the teenagers who attend it an outlet to express themselves. Her students are school bully Timothy (Kevin Mains), nerdy Jessica (Jemima Roper) and Margery’s own introverted son Jason whose glove puppet ‘Tyrone’ takes on a persona of its own, expressing himself far too freely. The question is…is this Jason’s conscience talking and acting through Tyrone or something far more sinister?
Celebrated performer Janie Dee once again shows us how versatile she is, here playing the part of Margery dealing with the death of her husband whilst desperately trying, yet failing to salvage her relationship with her son. At the same time she is sexually frustrated and wards off the gentle advances of Pastor Greg (Neil Pearson) choosing instead to give into lustful temptation with her student Timothy.
It is not surprising that Jason has issues, but whereas Jason tries to keep calm and stoic, the alter-ego at the end of his arm vents and lashes out at religion, rules and conformity in the most spectacular of ways! Harry Melling playing the part of Jason and Tyrone is undoubtedly extremely talented! He personifies Tyrone in a way that is fascinating to watch as he argues and fights with himself in a schizophrenic manner.
Unfortunately despite the obvious talents of the cast, Hand of God revolves around one main joke, a puppet that is completely out of control, he is obscene and completely obnoxious, and to be perfectly honest, in my opinion – not very funny.
By the second act, the characterisation had developed further and everything had been cranked up a gear to be even more shocking but I am afraid by the time everything had come to a head, I had lost interest, even the full on puppet-porn which gained the most laughs from the audience around me had been done better in Avenue Q. I found it crass for the sake of being crass, not my sort of humour at all and in trying to raise the bar it has tipped it over the edge for me.
Everyone’s sense of humour is different. Hand to God is shocking and pushes every boundary and although it is not altogether my cup of tea, it is superbly acted and I am sure that it will appeal to many people.
Others can keep Tyrone, I shall stick to my endless repeat visits to Avenue Q.
** two stars
Reviewer : Sammi O’Neill