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The Theatreguide.London Review

Hand To God
Vaudeville Theatre  Spring 2016

This American comedy's satire is so scattershot and its position so constantly shifting that while you will laugh a lot you may find yourself confused about what you're laughing at and why. 

From minute to minute there's a lot of fun here, but the minutes don't hang together or add up to a coherent play – as author Robert Askins implicitly admits by ultimately abandoning the plot with loose ends galore and letting the play just stop without actually ending.

In a small church in bible-belt America the teen group is making sock puppets to sing hymns and act out bible stories at next Sunday's service. 

Running things, under the watchful eye of the pastor, is a recently widowed woman in perhaps her late thirties, and the group consists of her nerdy son, an equally nerdy girl and the town Bad Boy. 

The last has amorous ambitions above his station and has decided he's in love with the widow, who is also the object of the pastor's more decorous and honourable intentions. 

Fortunately, for the sake of comedy, they catch her at a point where the pressures of being a Good Woman have begun to be unbearable, and being led into temptation sounds rather attractive. 

And then her son's puppet comes alive, takes control of him and starts spreading mischief in most unchurchly language. 

So we've got the laugh at the Christian hicks play, the laugh at the nerdy kids play, the hope the nerdy couple will get together play, the good woman tempted play, the foul language in church play, the puppet dominates puppeteer play, and a few others I've left out for simplicity's sake.

(A salute to Abbott and Costello and a shockingly gory grand guignol sequence are both also in there somewhere.) 

Most of the comic moments score, but keeping up with which play you're watching – and therefore what your attitude toward the characters should be at any given moment – does get in the way. 

The always welcome Janie Dee has a lot of fun with the widow, especially when the woman comically fights and gives in to various temptations. 

Harry Melling as both the son and his rebellious puppet carries most of that plot while admirably pulling off the trick of playing two characters in rapid-fire conversations and struggles with each other. 

Neil Pearson (pastor), Jemima Rooper (girl) and Kevin Mains (bad boy) provide generous support while each successfully suggesting more roundness and depth than secondary characters often have. 

Don't expect consistency, don't expect the plot or characters to make much sense, and don't expect to remember any of it next week.

Just accept that you're going to be invited to laugh at whatever the playwright finds funny at any given moment, and that that's going to change from moment to moment. And you'll have a good time.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Hand To God - Vaudeville  Theatre 2016 

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