Hand to God at the Vaudeville
Puppet violence is nothing new. Just ask Punch and Judy. But with Hand to God comes a new example of what puppet theatre can be: darkly psychological while retaining its manic slapstick energy. Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth, but give him a puppet and he’ll get a laugh while doing it.
Jason is an introverted kid dealing with the death of his father. While learning puppetry as part of his mother’s church group, his hand puppet Tyrone becomes a mouthpiece for all the things he can’t say. As the relationship between boy and toy graduates from endearing to sinister, the congregation believes Jason has been possessed by the devil. Meanwhile, his mother is doing some unravelling of her own, as she begins an affair with one of the boys from the church group. A raucous tale of gore, violent sex and satanism ensues, against a background of Bible Belt zeal. The incongruity of a fluffy sock puppet swearing like a sailor is matched in the blood-spattered walls of the children’s classroom and the Punch & Judy-style tent that doubles up as a preacher’s pulpit.
Tyrone is a “hand and rod” puppet, much like a Muppet. He is essentially a googly-eyed sock with a pair of arms attached. Skilled manipulation by actor Harry Melling (who plays Jason) sees him tenderly caressing Jason’s face one moment and attacking a bully in a blood-soaked nod to Reservoir Dogs the next. The comedy is spot on during an explicit puppet sex scene, throughout which the respective puppeteers look awkwardly away, waiting for them to finish up.
The stage operates like a giant picture book whose turning pages flip us between scenes, from the sugar-bright church classroom to Jason’s bedroom to the office. Special mention must go to the stage hands, who transform the classroom midway to convey an act of satanic vandalism, the teddy bears stabbed through the eyes and the crosses turned upside down. There is plenty to feast your eyes on in this vivid production.
This Broadway hit combines the irreverence of Avenue Q with dark and weighty themes of grief and mental wellness. Deservedly, it has garnered an Obie Award and five Tony nominations. Be ready to be scandalised and thoroughly amused.
Hand to God is on at Vaudeville Theatre from 5th February until 11th June 2016. Book your tickets here.
Watch the trailer for Hand to God here.