Harry Melling and Tyrone. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
When I saw that Broadway transfer Hand to God was described as Avenue Q meets The Book of Mormon I was instantly sold, as those are two of my absolute favourite musicals. So when the lovely folks from Stagedoor invited me to enjoy the play with them and have a chat about their app as well (which sounded really good) I of course couldn't say no.
Hand to God tells the story of Texan teenager Jason (Harry Melling) who is trying to deal with the loss of his father, his complicated relationship with his mother, and his growing feelings for a girl (Jemima Rooper) in his puppetry class at the local church, which his mother Margery (Janie Dee) runs in an attempt to take her mind off the grief she feels over the death of her husband. When Pastor Greg (Neil Pearson) asks the rat pack of puppeteers, which also includes local troublemaker Timmy (Kevin Mains), to put on a show at next Sunday's congregation pressure mounts in the small rehearsal room, with terrifying consequences.
So far the play by Robert Askins, which made its Broadway debut last year and was nominated for a Tony for Best Play, sounds fairly straight-forward. However, what makes this particular theatrical experience so unique is the clever use of a sock puppet to represent the inner conflict and confusion of protagonist Jason. He is rarely seen without puppet Tyrone on his arm and as the play progresses, Tyrone's words become more foul and his actions more extreme. Whether the puppet is possessed or the satanic actions are Jason's doing, that is left up to the imagination of the audience members.
Even after having seen the aforementioned Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon I wasn't quite prepared for the filthiness and raunchiness of Hand to God. The potty-mouthed puppet fit well with what the character of Tyrone was representing but the continuous cussing coming from the supposedly very Christian mother (not to mention some of her other 'escapades') seemed to be there just to add controversy. However, rather than providing an interesting dynamic or food for thought it actually detracted somewhat from the core of the story; Jason's bumpy journey of self-discovery, which was a really interesting and extreme coming-of-age tale.
The undeniable star of the night was Harry Melling, whose Jekyll and Hyde spiel between introvert Jason and satanical Tyrone elevated what otherwise was an average play with added cursing (and an intimate puppet scene not unlike one that can also be found in Avenue Q) to an interesting and enthralling piece of theatre. Melling, who is probably best known to the general public as cruel cousin Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter movies, has grown up to become far more than a child or character actor. Each and every scene between Jason and Tyrone was a spectacle for the eyes and as Tyrone started to become more dominant, watching Melling's quick back and forth between the two characters was wildly impressive.
Some of the metaphorical messages running throughout Hand to God about religion probably went over my head, but the show did make me laugh and gasp in equal measures while I marvelled at Melling's incredible performance. He was so astonishingly good that I would happily watch a two-hour play consisting solely of a Jason and Tyrone face-off. Almighty theatre gods, please make it happen.
Hand to God is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre and taking bookings until 11 June 2016. Book your tickets here.
Thanks again to the folks from Stagedoor for the invite to see the play with them! I really love the sound of the app (and had a peruse on my friend's iPhone) and can't wait for an Android version so I can explore it more.