Henry Paker: Guilty

Taking to the confined stage of Assembly’s ‘Box’, and looking for all the world like a key-note speaker at the world’s tiniest tech conference, Henry Paker sets the tone of Guilty very promptly: suspenseful music to make the audience both tense but also relaxed, Paker’s one-man narrative is a strange and rambling detective story, concerned with death of his life-coach, and Henry’s determined to find the responsible party. Supported by surreal illustrations that perpetuate his deadpan literalism, Paker’s persona blends surreal hyperbole with banal reality.

Incoherent – gloriously so most of the time – and with the air of being very nearly made-up on the spot.

Somewhat of an experimental, hybrid show, too scripted to be stand-up and too spartan to be a one-man play, Guilty contains absurd pastiches and character bits, all delivered in serious tones, yet subtly winking at the audience, and semi-aware of their own absurdity. It takes a little while for some of the more outlandish ideas to catch on, but once they do, Paker’s wonderfully odd gesticulations, abstract ideas made comic flesh, and literalistic puns, often thrown up on the projector screen, get under the skin, and Paker exploits them well.

However, while this one-man tale is meant to stand on its own, its narrative is somewhat winding and a little aimless. A series of imaginatively mad skits loosely threaded together, they’re unfortunately light on purpose or direction, and, although gradually they do gain momentum, getting the audience into fits of laughter as the absurdity grows, augmented with spectacularly foolish turns of phrase, each miniature scene is both fragmentary and yet indistinct from one another, making for a muddy narrative pock-marked with shambolic brilliance.

Incoherent – gloriously so most of the time – and with the air of being very nearly made-up on the spot, Paker’s is an agile comic, practised at making the most out of fluffed lines and missed cues. What with incompleteness and falling short being a large part of Guilty’s aesthetic, this technique fits, but in terms of audience work Paker lacks the confident fluidity of a pure-stand-up, making this hybrid show not quite one-hundred percent effective.

Looking like Alistair McGowan’s shorter brother, with the charisma of Howard Moon from the Mighty Boosh and a persona akin to Alan Partridge, anyone with a fondness for the ridiculous underdog or absurdity wrapped in pretentious idealism will come to love ‘Maximum Henry’ and his attempts at deductive brilliance. Although Guilty never really commits to its mystery-story premise, it needs that only as a skeleton on which to hang quiet anarchy and bizarre wit, which more than make up for Paker’s brilliant investigative foolishness. 

Reviews by Josh Adcock

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Henry Paker: Guilty

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The Blurb

Dare you join comedian Henry Paker on a journey into the seedy underbelly of the human condition? He hopes so, or else ticket sales will suffer. Henry’s TV appearances include Russell Howard’s Good News, Seann Walsh World and Edinburgh and Beyond. Henry also co-writes and stars in Radio 4 sketch show Small Scenes. **** (Sunday Times). **** (Chortle.co.uk). **** (Guardian).