One of the most anticipated shows in the West End, Hand to God is an unusual play using the combination of live actors and puppetry. A fully adult play, and not for anyone with a sensitive side to the taboo, Hand to God’s description sounds an awful lot like Avenue Q and this is possibly a comparison they have encountered many a time.
As one who has not seen Avenue Q but fully aware of its popularity, this production produces all the elements that makes it not only different but wildly adventurous.
Based in America in what would seem as the Bible Belt, the premise of the play is a combination of characters who all are a little strange to say the least. Based in the basement of a Lutheran church, Margery runs a puppetry class aimed to bring the idea of God to teenagers. Margery’s husband recently died of a heart attack and it soon becomes evident that this is her coping mechanism. Among the class is her son Jason – our main character who also uses this class as a way to help with his grief; his interest in puppetry becomes evident with his developed sock puppet, both in the making and in the performing. Other characters who fail to be up to his standard in puppetry are a sweet and naive young girl Jessica and a troublesome boy Timothy who is in love with Margery. We have Pastor Greg, a kind soul who plays the God loving stereotype which makes the comedy all the more better when this character is purposely broken. And finally, while not real life character but especially important, Tyrone our main puppet. He is filthy, angry, hilarious and seemingly possessed by the ‘devil’.
While filled with comedy, the play aims to make controversial points about religion and the how and whys of how it has come into life. It points out the good and bad of feelings, thoughts and actions and how these have been developed with a book of stories and omnipotent ‘characters’. This however is challenged by what would seem is a possessed puppet with its own mind and control over Jason. Not only scary, the scripting and premise borderlines, a horror film and The Muppets.
Harry Melling, best known as Harry Potter’s cousin in the movie series, is an incredible performer. As one who admires puppetry as an art form and performance technique, Melling’s execution of Tyrone is astounding and impressive. Somehow he manages to bring every emotion, every thought process and the controlling nature of the puppet over Jason to life. Changing from Tyrone to Jason, he easily and very quickly is able to change his voice, personality, facial features and over all characterisation from one to the other with no falter. In this, you soon are lost in the two characters he portrays and find yourself looking at the puppet as another actor.
Full of sex, language, comedy and a funny two fingers to religion, Hand to God is a fun loving and clever production which without the skills and execution of the actors (and puppets) stands out on its own leg to anyone who thought that a live actor/puppet production had been done before. I can tell you, it has not!