When we were in New York we were debating to either watch The Book Of Mormon or Avenue Q, then decided for the latter as our first choice was still running back in London. Almost two years later, we finally got tickets. When we pick them up from the theatre’s box office we can hardly believe the address printed under my name:
349 5th Avenue NEW YORK NETHERLANDS ANTILLES 10016
The history of the Dutch exchanging the swampy island of Manhattan against some sugar plantations in South America is well known and subject of many jokes – we love how the evening starts. And we even blank the stalls with show souvenirs in the foyer to avoid possible spoilers.
Our seats in the middle of the balcony offer a fantastic view. To the left sits a group of middle-aged Swedes which reminds me that I have been to the Prince of Wales Theatre before, when Mamma Mia! was still playing here. New in London and inexperienced with the ways buying tickets worked in the West End I had been badly stung by a ticket seller in Covent Garden who sat me for a premium price in the last row. I fumed as I had visitors from abroad (who had treated me) and I swore this would never ever happen to me or anyone I knew.
A gentleman to our right is given a pair of Sennheisers and instructions on how to use them – because of his hearing aids his seat has been carefully chosen and is equally far away from the speakers so he can catch the acoustics without any interference. I feel terribly ignorant that the sheer existence of hearing assistance for people with hearing aids in theatres has never come to my mind before. And I am glad that someone else has been more thoughtful and considerate.
The Book of Mormon starts in a training centre for missionaries in Salt Lake City and follows a journey of two randomly buddied up young elders. One joined to finally find friends, the other because he dreams of being sent to Orlando where people, weather and past times are nice, clean and uncomplicatedly available. Now, by coincidence the only time I have come across the Mormons was when I found an actual Book of Mormon in the draw of my bedside table in a business hotel in Orlando, just next to the actual bible. I was not intrigued enough to open and read in it but tonight I learn that this Christian denomination believes in a third testament (first published in 1830) which tells the story how Jesus worked wonders in America.
Maybe my own little episode is proof that Mormon missionaries have been successful enough in Orlando that new elders are no longer needed – our two missionaries are instead being sent Uganda. Here all the clichés appear they have feared: Warlords, AIDS, drugs and blasphemy. They soon establish that Africa is nothing like The Lion King and this mild comparison might be the best joke tonight on stage (beside a guest appearance later from Ms. Uhura). What follows are jokes about lawlessness, rape and FGM and I cannot believe that everyone in the theatre (but us and the Swedes) is laughing.
There is no satirical bite to it, no depth and all it seems is a couple of college boys shouting vulgar words as often as they can. One taboo after another is being shouted out hysterically but there is no debate to it, no substance and instead of cynical satire all we get his toilet humour. Has this ever been played in Uganda, I wonder.
This play has been written by the people who created South Park and even though I was introduced to it by a film with songs I found annoying I later respected and laughed about the sharp wit of some episodes. Tonight I was hoping for something like The Yes Men – The Musical but there is nothing clever about it. We consider leaving in the interval and in the middle of the second half regret that we have not.
I am glad I have not paid the Broadway prices for tonight but I have rarely been so bored in theatre seats. Next time I happily see Avenue Q again. Or Mamma Mia. Or the Lion King.
The Book of Mormon – script, lyrics and music by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
* out of 5 stars
We paid GBP 115.20 for two tickets on the balcony of the The Prince of Wales Theatre at Leicester Square