Rating * * *
play has actually made the journey over the Atlantic to the Vaudeville Theatre, where it officially opened last night. After the runaway success of 'The Book of Mormon' in recent years, it seems as if provocative and blasphemous humour is the way forward in America. Indeed Robert Askins' Tony-nominated comedy's cup runneth over with gags revolving around everything from devil-worshipping to committing lewd, sexual acts within the confines of the church.
Set in the small town of Cypress, Texas, the plot follows Marjorie (Janie Dee), a woman hurtling headstrong into a midlife crisis after the death of her husband six months previously. Pastor Greg (Neil Pearson) offers her the opportunity to run a puppetry class in the church's basement for the town's young misfits to give her some focus in her life. She forces her own son Jason (Harry Melling) to come along and beef up the numbers, as well as offer some emotional support. The other two members of the class are Jessica (Jemima Rooper) - a slightly introverted, awkward girl of the town - and Timothy (Kevin Mains) - a sexually aggressive, damaged teen. The proceedings spin completely out of control when it becomes clear that Marjorie is the object of both Timothy and Pastor Greg's affections and when Jason's hand-puppet (who goes by the name of Tyrone) seemingly comes to life and
expresses all of Jason's darkest thoughts. Is his hand literally possessed by the devil or is Tyrone functioning as a catalyst for the release of all his innermost frustrations towards his mother, his contempt for Timothy, his lust for Jessica and his defiance of the Christian faith?
The star of Hand to God is undoubtedly the 12-inch tall, evil sock puppet Tyrone, skilfully manipulated by the very capable, comic talents of Harry Melling, perhaps best known for his screen role of Dudley Dursley in the "Harry Potter" movies. The scenes which find him alone on stage in
full debate (and sometimes physical battle) with his puppet are priceless. He pulls off the shifts in voice and tone between his characters of Jason and Tyrone with such seeming ease that you forget his own mouth is still moving when the puppet is in control of the dialogue. Janie Dee also gives a joyously erratic performance as a woman at the end of her tether, whilst Jemima Rooper, Neil Pearson and Kevin Mains all get their scene to shine and show off their acting chops too.
Playwright Robert Askins' script is fiery and accessible, even though by the end of the play, we are left a little unsure about the statement he is wishing to make. But for those out there that lap up the outrageous kind of comedy you might commonly see on TV's "South Park," this is the theatre trip for you. Certainly not for the faint-hearted, this is a brazen, in-your-face new play, which sticks a fur-covered middle finger up at convention.