Hand to God

Previewed 5 February 2016, Opened 15 February 2016, Closed 30 April 2016 at the Vaudeville Theatre in London

The West End premiere of Robert Askins' new comedy Hand to God in London starring Harry Melling, Janie Dee and Neil Pearson.

The cast features Harry Melling as 'Jason/Tyrone', Janie Dee as 'Margery', Neil Pearson as 'Pastor Greg' with Jemima Rooper as 'Jess' and Kevin Mains as 'Tim'. This production is directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel with sets by Beowulf Boritt, costumes by Sydney Maresca, lighting by Mark Henderson and sound by John Leonard. PLEASE NOTE: This production is not be suitable for those under the age of 15 due to the play's strong language and adult subject matter.

Janie Dee's London credits include Blithe Spirit (Gielgud Theatre 2014), Woman in Mind (Vaudeville Theatre 2009), Shadowlands (Wyndham's Theatre 2007), Mack and Mabel (Criterion Theatre 2006) and Sophisticated Ladies (Gielgud Theatre 1992). Neil Pearson's West End credits include David Leveaux's revival of Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia (Duke of York's Theatre 2009) and Kevin Spacey's British Premiere of Maria Goos' play Cloaca (Old Vic 2004). Jemima Rooper's London theatre credits include Blithe Spirit (Gielgud Theatre 2014) and All My Sons (Apollo Theatre 2010).

When this production opened here at the Vaudeville Theatre in February 2016, Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph wrote that this "has to be the strangest show the West End has seen in years... this bizarre comedy grew on me; it keeps gathering in lunatic intensity until you surrender to its madcap charms... This is theatre for the YouTube generation, really - freakish, silly, far from top-drawer drama yet almost against my better nature, it's getting the thumbs-up." Dominic Maxwell in The Times decided that "there is one big reason to see the show... it's Harry Melling. Once Dudley Dursley in Harry Potter, always a striking stage actor, he excels here with a stunning rendition of a teen struggling for his mind while throwing his voice and working his body. It's a tragicomic turn of equal parts emotional heft and vaudevillean vitality. The show as a whole, though, lands somewhere between a smart, bold, insightful sketch and a fully developed play." Holly Williams in The Independent explained "the possessed puppet is a neat conceit, brought to life with a really terrific performance... 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." Fiona Mountford in The London Evening Standard complained that "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... yet still I fail to see what sort of audience this show hopes to attract." Claire Allfree in the Metro said that "the main problem is that potty-mouthed Tyrone suffers from puppet Tourette's, taking random pot shots at American liberal and conservative pieties without coherently lampooning any," adding that the cast "do what they can but are defeated by a crude, loud and lame script. Some might find it hilarious, of course, but others will be praying for the hand of God to pick them up and carry them off somewhere else." Michael Billington in The The Guardian thought that, "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, it is decently directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel and performed with a hectic energy." Sarah Hemming in The Financial Times highlighted that, "behind all the comic mayhem, there are a lot of dangling threads. The characters are 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 big themes that Robert Askins tips out on to the stage. Moritz von Stuelpnagel's cast handle it all with great comic timing, however, particularly Janie Dee and Harry Melling."

"Robert Askins's witless Hand To God... [an] unholy brew of grand guignol, sado-masochism and demonic glove puppetry thinks that it is being bold and iconoclastic when it is simply obvious and offensive. The possessed ventriloquist's dummy theme has been explored to infinitely greater effect in films such as Dead Of Night and Magic. Hand To God deserves the finger of scorn." The Sunday Express

"The premise has potential. Set in a Texas church presided over by Neil Pearson's insufficiently creepy Parson, a recently widowed Margery runs a puppetry workshop for teens, including repressed son Jason, Jess, whom he fancies, and bad boy Tim... Jason unleashes his inner demons through his sock puppet, Tyrone, who turns foul-mouthed, ferocious and depraved, crucifying cuddly toys and biting Tim’s ear off. Remember Rod Hull’s Emu? Tyrone is Emu on acid, and is handled brilliantly by Melling, suggesting being two people at once. But despite the shrill billing, Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s fitfully hyperactive production is unprovocative and, worse, unfunny." The Mail on Sunday

"There's a hysterical sex scene between two puppets, in three positions; some energetic direction; Janie Dee's endearing and gentle Margery, and Harry Melling's great performance as both Jason and the monstrous Tyrone, whom he animates with impressive skill throughout. There's always something appealing about a Lord of Misrule like Tyrone, who can't keep his mouth shut about anything, and delights in upsetting the applecart... The trouble is, Hand to God takes itself rather seriously. It genuinely believes it is saying something profound and challenging about Christian belief... The problem with Hand to God, in short, is that it's terribly juvenile. It wants to be another Book of Mormon — another vastly overrated bit of supposed 'religious satire', although undoubtedly funny at times. Hand to God is funny about twice but most of the time it mistakes shouting and swearing for wit." The Sunday Times

The comedy Hand to God in London at the Vuadeville Theatre previewed from 5 February 2016, opened on 15 February 2016 and closed on 30 April 2016 - was originally expected to close on 11 June 2016.