There is a scene in Hand To God that had me laughing so hard it hurt. It's also one of those scenes that you just can't unsee... and it involved puppets.
Robert Askins' irreverent, irreligious play started out 'off off Broadway', its success eventually propelling it onto Broadway-proper, a parallel journey to The Play That Goes Wrong here in London. Hand To God arrives at the Vaudeville in the West End with a new, British cast and perhaps fills a gap for a much needed rib-tickler on a dark, cold, winter evening.
It makes Simon Russell Beale's humourous profanity in Mr Foote's Other Leg seem so innocent but it also a play that has a heart. Jason (Harry Melling) is a dispirited, doleful teenager helping out his mum Margery (Janie Dee) with a church puppet show. His fellow 'Christketeers' are the dowdy and meek Jessica (Jemima Rooper) and the foul-mouthed, bully Timothy (Kevin Mains) who only attends because of his lascivious feelings towards Jason's mum.
Margery is also the object of Pastor Greg's affections (Neil Pearsons) who has been supporting her after the loss of her husband and Jason's father. Margery is clinging on by her finger nails and just needs Jason to be 'her rock'. To say Jason finds comfort in his sock puppet Tyrone sounds a bit wrong but he does and in return Tyrone turns into the devil and wreaks havoc.
Harry Melling is the star of the show and he is a star - I've long been a fan. He can growl out Tyrone's potty-mouthed lines while maintaining Jason's look of embarrassed innocence. The Jason/Tyrone performance is so skilfully done that you quickly forget he is actually having a conversation with his own hand; he makes Tyrone the sixth member of the cast and it is masterful to watch.
The comedy in Hand To God won't be to everyone's taste it is brash, occasionally puerile and violent but for all the silliness, swearing and sex it is essentially a play about a boy dealing with grief and finding a voice. There is plenty of laughter but it also tugs just a little bit on the heart strings - Harry Melling makes a kid with foul-mouthed glove puppet sympathetic and that is another reason why he is a star. Hand To God is raucous, riotous fun and I've already seen it twice, it's getting five stars from me.
Hand To God is two hours including an interval and runs at the Vaudeville Theatre until June 11.