Hilarious and Heartwarming: HAND TO GOD at the Vaudeville

I love when a show I've been waiting to come into the West End finally comes into London and HAND TO GOD is a prime example of that; when the show opened in London and I saw teens and young adults alike describe this comedy romp as "a blend between Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon" - two shows that I love very much - I was intrigued. 

Throw in the Tony nods it got, the great hype and the intrigue as to what the show is really about and you have a show I am desperate to see. But rejoice Past Shaun for Hand to God is now in previews at the Vaudeville Theatre and the first preview is proof that this play is truly unique.

In all of my time of theatregoing, I am yet to come across a play that manages to balance intimacy and deep emotion with side splitting humour and a crude attitude. It's a task that Avenue Q tried to do but didn't seem to succeed in doing and Urinetown as well which, while succeeding in being heartfelt, didn't manage to make it as raw or affecting as it was in this. It was moving to see a show that was throwing puppet sex, sacreligous slurs and wildly inappropriate love affairs around also manage to be a show about grievance, heartbreak and feeling conflicted; it's remarkable. The story starts with young Jason and his mother along with Jason's two friends partaking in their puppetry group in the local church and as time goes on, we learn about the death of Jason's father, the sexual tension in the group and the possession that fills Jason so deeply.

The cast is put together with perfection as well and this show really would be nothing without the amazing Harry Melling. Most know him from being Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter movies as it stands, but I think he'll be better known for Jason/Tyrone after this. It takes incredible talent to draw attention from your own face and have the audience put it on the puppet, but it takes true talent to manage to switch the attention from the puppet to your own face in a conversation; you know this is a sublime skill that Melling possesses (ironically!) in the scenes where he is in bed or when he's in the classroom on his own. This is Melling acting alone: it's not a duologue with another actor playing Tyrone, because he is really playing two characters up there! It's a thought that's only just crossing my mind now and I'm amazed that it never crossed my mind before. To add to Jason's wild attitude, Janie Dee's Margery is also a class act. She manages to play a mother trying to keep it together for her child, yet a woman who has her own problems and dilemmas for herself with beauty. It's wonderful to see scenes of her and Melling together and laugh out loud funny to see scenes with her and Kevin Mains' Timothy. Jemima Rooper also manages to play a fantastic Jessica who I think we can all see our sweet and innocent friend in. She's a delightful character that really manages to be the audience's relatable person in the show and her presence on stage is heartwarming to see.

The design on this show is so satisfying; even though I hadn't seen the show before today, I'd almost considering the set as iconic to see. The use of two revolving parts makes scene changes artistic to watch and this realistic and grungy setting only adds to the nature of the play: a dark comedy with a dark moral. It was great to see these dark and believable settings spin between one another and be used in a way that helped make the characters seem so much more real.

What is the moral of the story? I think it's that loss affects people in different ways. Sometimes it brings out the worst in people and sometimes it brings out the best but if anything, it manages to bring people together no matter how crazy it can be. Despite the fact that this was only the first preview, I can tell that this is a play that is going to capture the hearts of many; be it the LOL-worthy scenes that run throughout or the touching nature that comes behind those jokes, it really is great fun to see. Hand to God? Shaun Nolan approves.

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