With both Tony and Olivier nominations to hand, Robert Askins' ‘Hand to God’ was an appealing choice at the Vaudeville Theatre, on the Strand.
Set in an American Church Hall, mainly used by recently widowed ‘Margery’ (Janie Dee) for her teenage puppet group, its clear from the prologue that things are not as holy as they seem. Her son ‘Jason’ (Harry Melling ) along with his lively sock-puppet ‘Tyrone’ have both been taken over by a demonic destructive presence, which, after a very slow start, turns this trauma into a hilarious dark comedy.
Trying to sort it all out (but also seduce poor Margery) is ‘Pastor Greg’ (Neil Pearson) and good looking lag ‘Timothy’ (Kevin Mains), both of whom fail miserably at both tasks. With the imminent arrival of the Sunday Service deadline and no sign of any kind of Biblically themed puppet show to put on, Margery’s world comes crashing down, leaving only dowdy ‘Jessica’ (Jemima Rooper) to try and rescue Jason.
Once we got going, this brilliant company of five, who did feel lost and lonely on the vast Vaudeville stage, happily carried me along. Maybe a smaller, cosier venue would have been better, especially as the sock puppets that played such a prominent part, were so petite. The concept, albeit totally crazy, worked, and the inclusion of the prologue and epilogue gave the absurdity a much needed deeper meaning. It’s not an easy piece to watch, but well worth it, if only to witness an utterly breathtaking portrayal by Harry Melling of the possessed son.