Hand to God

Theatre, Comedy
2 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(30user reviews)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
1/6
© Tristram KentonHarry Melling (Jason)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
2/6
© Tristram KentonHarry Melling (Jason)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
3/6
© Tristram KentonJanie Dee (Margery)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
4/6
© Tristram KentonJemima Rooper (Jessica)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
5/6
© Tristram KentonHarry Melling (Jason) and Jemima Rooper (Jessica)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
6/6
© Tristram KentonNeil Pearson (Pastor Greg) and Janie Dee (Margery)

Hand to godawful, more like

Big fans of sock puppets and statutory rape may enjoy this wannabe provocative comedy import from Broadway. But in general ‘Hand to God’ strikes me as a show squarely aimed at holidaying Bible Belters in search of light blasphemy – not really a huge constituent of the West End crowd.

Jason (Harry Melling) is an awkward American teen enrolled in his widowed mother Margery’s (Janie Dee) faintly inexplicable church sock puppet workshop, alongside bad boy Timothy (Kevin Mains) and moderately quirky Jessica (Jemima Rooper). Buzzing around is Neil Pearson’s Pastor Greg, fussily attempting to woo Margery with scant regard for the fact her husband only died six months previously.

Anyway, long story short, Jason’s hand puppet Tyrone is possessed either by the devil or (more likely) his awkward owner’s suppressed id, and sets about causing trouble: battering Timothy, saying inappropriate things to Jessica, denouncing God as a lie and crucifying the church’s collection of fluffy animals. Meanwhile virtuous, decent Margery reveals herself to in fact be the wanton hussy that we know all women are – right lads? – and decides to aggressively seduce hapless, clearly somewhat vulnerable Timothy (who isn't exactly unwilling, but is apparantly a minor).

Objecting to Robert Askins’s thin, fringey comedy on grounds of political correctness is potentially playing entirely into its hands, but here’s the thing: I can’t image a London audience possibly being remotely shocked by its lampooning of organised religion, or to fail to grasp the fact that Tyrone is the result of shy, gawky Jason ‘acting out’. But the fact that Margery doesn’t need any sort of puppet pal to morph into a cougar wank fantasy is troubling – I’m not sure that cartoony misogyny is the sort of provocation we really need in our theatres.

What ‘Hand to God’ does indubitably have going for it is a first rate cast who lay into material way beneath them with an aplomb that suggests they’re at least being paid decently. Melling steals the show as the schizophrenic Jason/Tyrone, but everyone is good: Rooper manages to remind us why she’s one of the best comedy actresses of her generation while rocking an almost non-existent part.

The only real intrinsic charm of Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s production lies in the puppetry - there are some genuinely funny moments (again, brilliantly enabled by Melling) in which the diminutive Tyrone duffs up much larger humans, plus there’s a lengthy puppet sex scene that’s almost as funny as it thinks it is (clearly indebted though it is to ‘Team America’).

But bright spots and a good cast don’t save the whole, a flimsy sketch of an idea promoted far, far beyond its means. There’s lots of talk of heaven and hell, but this feels a lot more like purgatory.

By: Andrzej Lukowski

Posted:

Average User Rating

3.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:6
  • 4 star:9
  • 3 star:10
  • 2 star:4
  • 1 star:1
LiveReviews|30
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1 of 1 found helpful
Staff Writer

I just did not like it, I have given this show a 2* because some of it was okay and I liked the performance from Harry Melling as both Jason and the puppet. 


I felt that this show was trying hard to be politically incorrect in order to gain laughs, but instead I just did not care about what would seem to be 'shocking behaviour'. It wasn't funny and it was not shocking. Instead I was bored and a lot of it was predicable. Actually I think that if the play was simply the guy and his puppet and not necessarily trying to trash religion this could have been a class act! I like that the puppet was his demand side or in fact the demand himself. If the play was just him and his puppet I would have liked it a lot but it was not, instead the writers tried to add twists and turns around the boy and his puppet and it was cr*p. A no from me. 

tastemaker

Absolutely incredible, walk in expecting a comedy come out pondering your own relationships, the nature of evil and a little horrified by what humans are capable of. The set is fun, the acting - incredible. It is definitely a slow burner, and takes a while to feel comfortable with the tone but the second act completely engrosses you and the last 20 minutes I struggled to keep my eyes open due to the horrifying, nail biting, jaw dropping action and revelation!


Please go see this show, with the comedy and for the chilling message you are left with. Better the devil you know ! 

Staff Writertastemaker

Ok… I think the hype around the show might be slightly exaggerated, but it wasn't a bad show at all. Gripping throughout (no long over indulgent scenes which meant it kept a good pace). The theatre is small which means there is a good view and the small details of the set aren't lost. There are major laugh out loud moments and some gore which is pretty surprising but enjoyable.

The problem for me is that the idea of the "crazy christian" isn't particularly shocking to a UK audience, its not a major issue here and in general Londoners are pretty liberal, so some of the jokes around this (or general scene setting even) just doesn't pack the punch you can tell it was supposed to. And of course is much less relatable here in the UK. I think the script needs a little tweak for the new audience.

Some slightly dodgy accents but the acting was good, some kooky characters that helped carry the story. I didn't love the puppets character, the voice felt slightly strained but the relationship between the main character and puppet was well played.

Worth going to see for sure but perhaps not a blockbuster!

Tastemaker

Eeeek! Unfortunately, Hand of God just didn't do it for me. 'Shockers' do win views and laughs but this was a case of trying too hard and most humour was lost in the fact that a) it's already been done too many times, b) there were times that it was potentially a little too dark, and I'm one of the most 'unphased' people you would ever meet! 
I did enjoy the performance as a whole, it just got a tad boring. It certainly doesn't live up to the hype. The theatre itself was great though. Very spacious and not too big, I'll be looking out for future performances here!

Tastemaker

Being a fan of Avenue Q and also enjoying Book of Mormon, I thought I would also like Hand to God. Most of the comedy in the play seemed to come from the typical sexual jokes or else over the top moments that were there for the shock value. I didn’t feel there was anything particularly witty or enjoyable about the script. I did enjoy parts of the first half, but I didn’t enjoy the second act at all and the ending was particularly ridiculous. Hand to God has been described as Sesame Street meets The Exorcist and I can understand why. I can’t recommend this play.

Tastemaker

Cheeky, funny and humorous. Never saw puppet doing moves like that and it might seem shocking for some people, but I couldn't stop laughing.

Tastemaker

The obvious comparison for this play is Book of Mormon and, unfortunately, Hand to God isn’t even in the same league.  It’s a fun play and I don’t regret going to watch it, but I can’t help feeling it could have been a lot more as there are moments of genius.  The sex scene with the puppets had the crowd laughing until they cried and may have saved this play.  Not a bad play, but there are better plays out there.

Tastemaker

This was ok but I was expecting it to be much funnier. The cast were really talented especially Harry Melling playing Jason and Tyrone the puppet who ends up kind of being his evil demonic conscience. Not one for the faint hearted or easily offended expect cheesy americanisms and puppet sex and tongue in cheek dark humour.

Staff Writer

I thoroughly enjoyed the show and found myself laughing throughout its entirety. The storyline was perhaps a little predictable and tried to dig a little too deep at the end, but nonetheless a great, easy watch. Tyrone was fantastic.

Tastemaker

Walked in unsure of what to expect. I did do some legitimate laughing and some legitimate cringing. The set reminded me a lot of Catholic school (well sans the Satan part). The acting was fantastic and the set changes were great. It was a bit much but in the end I think it does show the absurdity of it all. I have not seen Avenue Q--- but I was told it was around the same vein. 


I found this play confused and by then end I was bored and uninspired. 

the humor in the first act is fun, rude and crude but not clever, the laugh is simply because it's crude! But the show takes a very different direction second act and becomes less funny and far too poniente, leaving very dark moments where it's no longer funny but uncomfortable. This to me suggests the audience should think deeper than the obvious. Where that leaves you is seeing a clearly mentally ill child with no support from a mother who's struggling with grief. Which to me is not the funny show it billed itself as. 

As I said it was confused and I left feeling nothing. 

Tastemaker

After hearing Hand to God described as ‘Book of Mormon meets Avenue Q’ I blindly booked tickets and didn’t read anything about the premise of the show…I thought it would be more surprising that way! The show takes a little time to get going with some rather serious themes at the start, but took puppetry to a whole new level with both puppet and master playing separate characters. The story line overall is very strange, but I can’t fault Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter all grown up) he was truly brilliant in making his hand puppet, Tyrone, a real person.


Yes, it did have us all hysterically laughing at points and gasping with shock at others, but we all left wide-eyed with a one word consensus of ‘weird’. I sadly couldn’t say I loved it, even though there were a few clever and witty lines, most the roaring laughter came from somewhat slapstick moments, which do pale in comparison to the comical lyrical genius of Avenue Q, which will always remain the favourite.

Tastemaker

I am not a big fan of puppetry, but this show managed to catch my attention, specially for the relationship of the main character and its puppet. Filled with conflicting drama and dark humor, this show is sure to get a few laughs out of you, but I still found it to be a little too preaching, specially with the closing message. If you're up for some good fun without much overthinking, it's a nice choice in the musical populated West End of London. 

Tastemaker

Hand to God is the latest off-kilter stage production export from the US. Following the success of similar Broadway hits on this side of the pond- think Avenue Q, Urinetown and the Book of Moron- there is an appetite for marginally offensive, mostly absurd theatre. This genre offers a middle ground amid sanguine musicals and highbrow, circumventing elaborate costumes and sonnets for brash, overt and grotesque humour. The triumph of shows like Avenue Q is credited to how palatable they are: contemporary, riotous and not exactly intellectually taxing. 


Hand to God therefore has a lot to live up to following the popularity of its American precursors. Because of the reliance upon puppetry in the narrative, a comparison to Avenue Q is unavoidable. However, the puppets in Hand to God are merely foils to the repressed characters and represent their subconscious strife and desires. They are not individual personalities.


The play focuses on a Sunday school church group of dysfunctional individuals in Texas. They are supervised by Margery, a manically cheerful widower who encourages them to keep idle hands busy through their handmade sock puppets. One of the attendees is her son, Jason, a meek and gloomy teenager. He appeals for the affection of a young girl, Jessica, through his scruffy puppet, Tyrone. This courtship begins innocuously on the playground, but everything spirals into a hysterical tailspin when Tyrone appears to develop self- awareness. 


Tyrone vocalises Jason’s insecurities while goading him on to toughen up and rebel against his mother and his religion. It becomes apparent that Jason’s inability to communicate with his mother is the catalyst for this strange turn. Things further disintegrate when Jason discovers that Margery- who has equally succumbed to her own hysteria- has engaged in a wild sexual encounter with Timothy, another troubled group attendee. Jason- or is it Tyrone?- becomes violent and satanical, locking himself away after a violent episode.


The cast is superb, especially the unhinged and bipolar performances of Margery and Jason by Janie Dee and Harry Melling. This alone keeps the show afloat, but the story lacks any real ingenuity and, while there are a few moments of uncomfortable absurdity, nothing more than sustained chuckles are achieved. While Hand to God does offer something left field, it’s also a bit too try-hard and crass at times- prolonged puppet sexuality becomes a bit tedious, for instance. And this isn’t a family-friendly puppet show in the least; the strong language and rude sexuality- both in human and puppet form- make for a ‘PG-15’ production.


Despite this, given the affordable ticket prices on offer right now, it’s worth seeing. I enjoyed it, but had no expectations on the night. It’s indisputably a divisive show, so best to avoid it at all costs if the idea of sock puppet fellatio, denunciation of the existence of God and implied statutory sexual violation immediately turns you off.

Tastemaker

I didn’t know much of what to expect from the production. I read reviews likening it to Avenue Q and Book of Mormon, neither of which I have seen!

I thoroughly enjoyed it though, the cast were great, especially Harry Melling (who was Dudley in Harry Potter, who knew?!) It was very funny at times, cringe worthy at others and quite dark towards the end. The puppet work was so well timed and at times, I forgot someone was moving it! If you’re not prudish, have a good/dirty sense of humour, this will be right up your street.
Tastemaker

Lots of fun! The hand puppets were great, as were the actors controlling them!


Hand to God - A Haiku: Scattergun jokes miss - Dave from Drop the Dead Donkey - Puppet sex highlight

Tastemaker

After the self-proclaimed comparisons to Avenue Q and Book of Mormon, both of which I loved as plays rarely make me laugh out loud, I arrived with high hopes. However I feel this comparison didn't quite hold up, the language and scenes were even cruder and darker (which I didn't think possible) however this didn't translate into being funnier. 


I was not entirely sure about their interpretation of satire either, it was almost as though the end message was thrown in simply to make you feel as though you had learned something and not simply spent hours sat through the jumbled dreams of a schizophrenic...


However I donate some stars to the talent of the actors, I genuinely felt frazzled every time Margery (the mother) threw herself on stage, contorted with stress and anxiety. Don't expect any ventriloquy, however the way the Tyrone the puppet 'acts' perfectly compliments Jason's Jekyll and Hyde performance. 


Whatever you do for god-sake don't go with your family. 


I enjoyed this show a lot. I felt the script was well executed and the storyline, though at time's predicable, did not drag on and kept me entertained throughout. The cast put in a good performance, Tyrone stole the show. It's not to be taken too serious but a fun night out in a lovely theatre.


My first puppet play and it didn't disappoint, I found myself laughing throughout. The production and acting was top notch.

Tastemaker

The hype around Hand to God based on the "It's as good as Book of Mormon!" quotes flying around town meant I was super pumped to go to this play. First the Vaudeville theatre is truly one of the loveliest - big spacious seats and it's really quite small so you'll always have a good view. The play is half puppets, half not and it's a small but talented cast. You'll recognise a few of them from stage and screen. Good acting, and a decent plot. Sometimes slapstick funny but very, very dark at points too. I wasn't over-wowed but I certainly enjoyed it and I'd recommend others to go and see it. 

Tastemaker

If you enjoyed The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q then this is the play for you; however, do note that it is a play and not a musical, although there is some toe-tapping country music playing in the theatre to honour its Southern States setting.  Jason, a teenager with a hand puppet named Tyrone, is grieving the death of his father and relies on Tyrone as his salvation, means of escape, and to voice the things he cannot say.  Margery, Jason's mother, is running a puppet-making class for teenagers at their church, while fending off the advances of both her pastor and troubled minor, Timothy.  What ensues is a riotously amusing ninety minutes of theatre.  Disclaimer: once seen, puppet sex can never be unseen. 

Tastemaker

Don't come expecting light hearted laughs. This is a play that revels in its awkward humour, and almost juvenile jokes that altogether, completely work! Definitely not one to take the family to see, but for those who enjoyed Avenue Q, Book of Mormon etc? Definitely! 


A brilliant and hilarious play, Henry Melling really excels in the main role here, as both a boy and his puppet. At one point where Tyrone comes off his hand, I could feel the audience staring at it, waiting for it to come back to life by itself. 


It's not quite 5 stars for me, as despite there being a message the play is trying to convey, I feel like is actually lost in this production because ironically, it's actually a bit TOO blunt and in your face. We left the theatre, had a quick google of the Wiki page and then had our lightbulb moment when we could fully digest Tyone's last monologue. 


Overall - definitely worth going, but ONLY if you're prepared for an evening of shock and "teen" humour! 



Hand To God is one of the bests things to see in London (in my opinion) although I would say it's more like Avenue Q crossed with the Inbetweeners rather than Book Of The Mormon as it is a show and not a musical.

The idea to the play about a mans sock puppet that becomes possessed is a little out there but don't let it put you off, as the story unfolds it is simple but brilliant, the actors are amazing and extremely funny.

I had booked the tickets throughTtime Out on allocation and was worried that I wouldn't get great seats but ended up two rows from the front :)


I went into this fairly blind, booking it after seeing it described as "‘Book of Mormon’ meets ‘Avenue Q’". It wasn't quite the light-hearted musical I'd envisage, it wasn't even a musical...  


Once you get past that disappointment, however, it was quite refreshing to go and see something that made you think a bit more than some of the other shows on the West End. There was enough humour to keep it from being entirely depressing and slightly disturbed. The actors were excellent, especially Henry Melling who managed to endear himself to the audience despite having a possessed puppet hand, and the set was well used. 


I ended the evening feeling slightly shocked, pleased I'd seen it, but not rushing to book tickets to see it again. Although, as I said, I was expecting a light-hearted musical! 


Tastemaker

There is something wonderful about puppets (the same can be said about animation); you can get away with saying pretty much anything. People don't seem to be offended by them. And boy do puppets seem to be making a revival, for which we can probably thank a combination of Warhorse and Avenue Q. 


As a big South Park fan, I was a bit worried by all the comparisons to Book of Mormon, particularly considering how little I had read about the play. I needn't of worried. It may not possess the same style of humour and it might not be quite so outspoken but what it is is a very well written and performed play. It knows it's audience, it knows what it's trying to say and it knows how to get laughs. 


The set works brilliantly in that, while it may not be the most beautifully designed, it is highly functional. The cast do a great job of bouncing off each other and the energy is consistently well maintained. The jokes come in gentle waves, constantly there but worked into the fabric of the characters stories. Harry Melling does a fantastic job with Tyrone and I found myself laughing at the physical comedy of the puppet almost as much as the jokes themselves. The plot has a strong and easy to follow narrative and even leaves you with something to mull over at the end. 


It may not be for everyone but it's probably for most people. Go and see it.



Tastemaker

There were some brilliant surreal moments in this play & the puppetry was fantastic. Tyrone really did seem possessed & completely separate from the hapless Jason. I loved the 2 big, hilarious & highly inappropriate love scenes. However the 2nd half wasn't nearly as funny as the 1st & became very dark with graphic violence. I wasn't expecting a reservoir dogs type experience & where Book of Mormon has tongue firmly in cheek & a real affection for it's subject matter this was just too dark & gory for me. By the end there was no feel good glow & my laughs had all dried up.

Tastemaker

If you thought Avenue Q took naughty puppets to the limit, then you obviously haven’t caught Hand to God, which makes the onstage puppet sex look tame by comparison. That’s right, this play features even more graphic puppet sex, swearing and some serious Bible bashing.


First things first, we were very lucky to get a seat upgrade to the first row! We could literally see all the actors’ expressions close up, and the set was so much more amazing up close. Beowulf Borritt’s set design is incredibly malleable, switching from room to room in a snap, and creates a distinct sense of claustrophobia from both the saccharine sweet basement and the bone chilling state it degrades to in Act II. There is an immensely satisfying amount of detail in the deceptively simple set, with countless props that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever stepped food into Sunday school, down to the Bible-themed board games, or the office, with its framed photos of mission trips and carefully curated shelf of books, including a heavy Bible with an unfortunate fate.


The basic premise of the play is described by The New Yorker as ‘Sesame Street meets the Exorcist’. In Texas, recently widowed Margery (Janie Dee) conducts a Christian puppetry workshop in a church overseen by Pastor Greg (Neil Pearson), attended by teenagers, namely her introvert son, Jason (Henry Melling, better known as Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter films), his love interest , Jessica (Jemima Rooper) and troublemaker Timothy (Kevin Mains). Margery’s husband’s death has a severe impact on both herself and Jason, and both have disturbing reactions towards it. Jason in particular, has taken to speaking through his sock puppet Tyrone, who becomes increasingly foul-mouthed and violent as Margery neglects Jason, and the characters find themselves confronted by a demonic Tyrone (who claims to be Satan). What follows is a deeply disturbing, bloody journey into the psyche of both mother and son, and how grief can invite even the devil himself to pay a visit.  


Despite a slow start, the play eventually escalates in pacing, stakes and intensity, climaxing in a seemingly endless battle between Jason and his own left hand. Hand to God is not a play for the faint hearted. It aims to shock, horrify and is dark comedy at its best. Throughout its 100 minute run, there were countless moments of discomfort and more than a few moments that were shockingly violent, from kicking furniture around to potential amputation. Yet, despite the immense blood and gore and intensity of the drama, there are just as many darkly humourous moments that genuinely incite laughter, mostly mined from Tyrone, be it his irreverent outbursts or virgin sex experience. Tyrone, for all his inhumanity, is central to the plot, and Henry Melling does an Olivier award worthy job of animating and voicing him, steadily growing more malicious as the play progresses, and all the while also playing Jason. Janie Dee delivers a disturbing performance that snaps between hapless Sunday school teacher and hysterical widow, and has great onstage love-hate chemistry with Kevin Mains. In fact, Hand to God has a spectacular cast, and each one plays their role with aplomb, culminating in performances that will move even the stoniest of hearts.  


Hand to God begins and ends, chillingly, with Tyrone waxing on about the flaws of religious dogma, coming full circle. Robert Askins has penned a deliciously dark script that throws religion and family into question, and even after leaving the theatre, you can’t quite help but look at your hands with an apprehensive glance, with the fear that you too will suddenly find yourself possessed by an urge to craft your very own infernal sock puppet. 

Tastemaker

Hand to God is being billed as Avenue Q meeting Book of Mormon - big shoes to fill and it more than lives up to the hype. Hysterically funny, there are some brilliant scenes that involve x-rated insults and actions that will have you both squirming in your seat and crying with laughter. Henry Melling is incredible in such a high energy role - he manages to portray sweet little Jason and satanic Tyrone like flicking a switch. It's easy to forget he's one actor playing two parts, one of which is essentially made of a sock. I loved everything about this play - I will certainly be recommending this to everyone I know... Well those that aren't easily offended at least!

Tastemaker

Outrageously Funny

Friday was the opening night of ‘Hand to God’ at the Vaudeville Theatre and fortunately I was there.

When I first heard about this play I simply read:

‘Book of Mormon’ meets ‘Avenue Q’

The other description you can easily find online states ‘Sesame Street meets The Exorcist’. Personally this was enough to make me want to see it.

I’m a huge fan of Avenue Q – I’ve seen it twice and I’m planning on seeing it again in September.

Avenue Q is probably the funniest musical I’ve ever seen – but I have to state that my cheeky humour might be different from most people.

Book of Mormon doesn’t come far behind. In fact if you take your time to investigate you will find the reviews the are usually even better.

So for this new play to state that is something similar to those two shows is deliberately putting the bar very very high.

The question now is:

Does it live up to the hype?
YES!

The audience laughed hard from start to finish. It pushes boundaries – which is to be expected – and even tries in a unorthodox way to make you think about good and bad.

The cast is absolutely outstanding and the puppets actually seemed to be real.


Harry Melling (plays Dudley Dursley – Harry Potter’s cousin in the movies) leads alongside Janie Dee (Oliver-Award winner), Neil Person, Kevin Mains and Jemima Rooper.

They are all great but Harry Melling is brilliant from start to finish almost playing two completely different characters.


If you are planning to see it – be ready to be shocked, surprised, amazed and laugh until your lungs hurt.

I can't tell you much more but I can tell you this — Don’t wait anymore BUY THE TICKETS NOW!