Fun night of death, mourning, sex, religion… and Tyrone

Holly Ross and Michael Cooper as Jessica and Jason, with Tyrone puppet. Photo: Eva Schroeder

Theater / “Hand to God” by Robert Askins, directed by Jarrad West. To the ACT Hub, Kingston until August 13. Review by SIMONE PENKETHMAN.

“HAND to God” is a tight, funny, and surprisingly compassionate story about death, grief, sex, religion, and an evil puppet named Tyrone.

Recently widowed Margery (Steph Roberts) runs a puppet ministry for troubled youth. It is his way of staying in touch with his parish and his community.

Margery’s son, Jason has a talent for puppetry and is rarely seen without the loudmouth, Tyronne on his arm. Jessica (Holly Ross), a thin and shy brunette, makes a puppet called Jolene who looks like Dolly Parton. Bad boy, Timothy (Josh Wiseman) is much more interested in Margery than puppets.

Pastor Greg (Arran McKenna) is a ridiculous character reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Mr Collins. He is attracted to the beautiful widow, but his desire is aroused by a troubled teenager, Timothy.

Jason and Jessica yearn for each other, but they’re both too shy and repressed to confess. Their puppets Tyrone and Jolene have no such scruples.

There is a burlesque energy in the highly physical performances of the players and the puppets. In a hilarious scene, reminiscent of the movie “Team America”, Jolene and Tyrone act out what their teenage puppeteers can only imagine.

Michael Cooper’s performance as Jason is a remarkable display of vocal, physical and puppet prowess.

The vocal and physical work of all the actors contributes to the strength of the show, which is a testament to Jarrad West’s confident and bold direction for Everyman Theatre.

“Hand to God” is set in the American Bible Belt where, apparently, it’s not unusual for fundamentalist congregations to use puppets in their religious teaching. The actors adopt South American accents, which can sometimes be awkward.

It’s an award-winning comedy written in 2011 and performed on and off Broadway. West came across the text during a Zoom reading session during covid and breathed new life into it in Canberra.

It’s a fun night out at The Hub in Kingston, a welcome new addition to Canberra’s theater venues.

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