Review Round-Ups

Reviews round-up: Were critics full of praise for Hand to God?

Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s Broadway hit gets a lukewarm reception this side of the pond

Michael Coveney, WhatsOnStage


""You're so far back in the closet you're in Narnia," is one of the more unexpectedly challenging lines thrown across the stage in this re-cast, Tony-nominated Broadway import. So let's come out, at least, on the show itself, the funniest and filthiest puppet glove punch-up I've ever seen.

"Avenue Q meets The Book of Mormon, with elements of The Exorcist, is a fair label, but Jason's puppet Tyrone, at first an alter ego, then a sort of ectoplasmic manifestation, is no less scary than Michael Redgrave's dummy in Dead of Night. But this is not about ventriloquism, it's puppetry as a further expression of oneself, and that dichotomy is brilliantly channelled by [Harry] Melling, not least in the infamous sex scene."

Sarah Hemming, Financial Times


"It’s a sharp, sometimes caustically funny conceit…. But behind all the comic mayhem, there are a lot of dangling threads here. The characters are pretty skimpily drawn, the story jerks forward in brief, sketch-like scenes and the prologue and epilogue feel heavy-handed. There is no time to tackle properly the sizeable themes that Askins tips out on to the stage."

"Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s fine cast handle it all with great comic timing, however, particularly Dee and Melling. Melling is outstanding, bringing physical brilliance and emotional depth to the challenge of being both boy and puppet, ego and id, character and concept simultaneously."

Michael Billington, Guardian


"American religious fervour inevitably breeds a reaction. Although Robert Askins’s play has made a five-year journey from the theatrical margins to Broadway hit, it strikes me as a coarse, crude satire that – not unlike The Book of Mormon – greets one form of excess with another."

"For all its obviousness, Hand To God is decently directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel and performed with a hectic energy… My objection to the play is that using violence and hysteria as a way of combating hard-sell religion and hypocrisy plays into the enemy’s hands. If one is seeking comedy about possession by an anarchic puppet, one might find more laughs in Rod Hull and Emu."

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard


"Tonally it’s all over the place, leaving us feeling a murky combination of unsettled and dispirited. The only hope of salvation for Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s production is for the five actors to go at this muddle with terrific energy and manic conviction and this, to their credit, they do. Melling, who’s turning into one of the most interesting actors of his generation, is wonderful to watch."

"Dee is convincing as a woman buffeted by grief and guilt, while Jemima Rooper provides admirably straight-faced support as the object of Harry/Tyrone’s affections. Yet still I fail to see what sort of audience this show hopes to attract."

Holly Williams, The Independent

No star rating provided

"Well, thank God for the extended puppet sex sequence. Not words I ever thought I’d write, perhaps, but a filthy finger-led fornication scene is one moment when this hotly-tipped American play lives up to the expected hilarity."

"…you sort of expect the whole show to be full of such madcap mayhem, and it just isn’t. A sketchy subplot where Margery (a squawky, unsure Janie Dee) realises she lusts for violent, rough sex with a teenager feels a bit off-colour – we don’t know how young these kids are meant to be, but reverse the gender and there’s no way this would be played purely for laughs."

"Still, Hand to God really doesn’t hold back, and isn’t afraid to get very dark. I have a feeling it might have acquired cult status as a fast and furious fringe show; faffy sets and a big proscenium arch don’t really help its energy. Hand on heart, it’s hard to recommend."

Hand To God runs at the Vaudeville Theatre until 11 June.