Janie Dee pulled out of Mrs Henderson Presents before it launched in Bath last year. After visiting that dispiriting show last week we thought she’d had a lucky escape. After suffering at the err, hand of Hand to God we’re not so sure.
Something of a hit in New York, both off and on Broadway, you can’t say that it doesn’t do what it says on the tin with its poster screaming “Sesame Street meets The Exorcist”.
Dee plays recently widowed Margery who runs a Christian puppet group in a church hall, possibly as something of a therapy session for her troubled (schizophrenic?) son Jason (Harry Melling) who fists a rather odd sock puppet called Tyrone which unsurprisingly develops an even more disturbed personality of its own.
There’s no denying that Melling manipulates the puppet as brilliantly as Tyrone begins to manipulate Jason but as the audience around us rocked with laughter at the potty-mouthed shock tactics we sat there stony-faced wondering not just where this strange, convoluted, incoherent show was going, but what was everyone else was finding so hysterically funny.
The cast keep things almost afloat, rather heroically given what they’re have to work with. Neil Pearson is saddled with a somewhat thankless role of a church pastor lusting after Margery while she instead returns the affections of the libidinous young Timothy (Kevin Mains), but only if he treats her rough. Dodgy. Though these became the only moments during the entire evening when the play threatened us with the possibility of amusement.
There’s also a love story of sorts between Jason and Jessica (nicely played with full Velma from Scooby-Doo geekiness by Jemima Rooper) which comes to fruition in the apparently famous, apparently hilarious, sex scene between their respective puppets. Yet we still remained untroubled by laughter.
We must thank small mercies that the spectacularly monikered Moritz von Stuelpnagel directs things at such a frenetic pace it’s all over in about 90 minutes, though this is extended with an unnecessary interval and (on press night when we attended) the set (designed by runner-up in the attention-seeking name department, Beowulf Boritt) breaking down. As inveterate schadenfreude-chasers this turned out to be the show’s highlight for us.
When Tyrone’s demonic possession takes over rude grafitti appears scrawled on the church hall walls. Phil, realising it was his duty to make his own entertainment, studied where the joins in the swivelling panels necessary to achieve this effect were located.
Robin Askin’s puerile script hammers you over the head (and the cast’s hands, but that is another matter) and attempts to shock but the only surprise we had was how tedious it all was. Sock puppet doyenne Shari Lewis must be spinning in her grave.
We could have had more fun sorting out our sock drawers.