The G-word might be in the title and the plot inspired by writer Robert Askins’ own Christian upbringing, but this comedy is not one for grandparents in town for a nice visit to the theatre. And an all grown up Harry Melling is likely to prove a scary prospect for young people still making their way through the Harry Potter films, where he got his big break as Dudley Dursley.
Hand to God is a totally bonkers piece of theatre. It’s violent, blasphemous, obscene, juvenile and sweary. Oh, and it’s absolutely hilarious.
In a devout small town in Texas, widowed mother Margery (Janie Dee) runs the Lutheran church puppet club. In Margery’s teenage group is bookish Jessica (Jemima Rooper), local troublemaker Timothy (Kevin Mains) and her own son Jason (Harry Melling), who – we are soon to discover – is a troubled soul indeed.
Hold fast to that which is good; Neil Pearson and Janie Dee
The local pastor (Neil Pearson) wants the group to put on a show, but things unravel spectacularly when Jason’s puppet Tyrone takes on a life of its own, announces itself to be Satan and spews forth all that Jason is afraid to say himself.
Nothing is sacred in Askins’ script as the foulmouthed Tyrone savages everyone and everything in his path, while Jason looks on as a seemingly helpless bystander. The debauchery culminates in Tyrone and Jessica’s puppet indulging in full-on, no-holds-barred sex. Kermit and Miss Piggy would surely be shocked.
It’s a stunning display of physical comedy from Melling who skilfully voices the aggressive Tyrone while maintaining the shocked and embarrassed facial expressions of Jason. He’s matched every inch of the way by Janie Dee who falls apart in front of our eyes.
Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s production gets a bit too hysterical at times and the ending kind of fizzles out. Yet it’s easy to see why Hand to God was nominated for five Tonys during its run on Broadway: it triumphs as it revels in bad taste. There really is nothing like it in the West End at the moment.
Hand to God is at the Vaudeville Theatre until 11th June