Howard Read: Hide and Speak

Howard Read, the creator of the six-year old stand-up comedian and CBBC sensation Little Howard, leads a double life. In the daytime he's a children's entertainer; by night, the ring-leader of a very strange circus, featuring two chickens, a dinosaur, some monkeys, a Neanderthal, several unlikeable snowmen, Little Howard, a pigeon and God. 'Basically,' he tells us, 'I make cartoons do stand-up'.

As that list might suggest, this show is not a whole lot more grown-up than Read's more familiar material. He attempts to differentiate his adult comedy persona from his children's theatre fame with gratuitous swearing, lots of puerile 'adult' content and – at the show's lowest moment - even a brief ogling of an audience member's breasts in the front row. These strategies all speak of an adolescent attempting to appease his older peers and hide the maturity and sophistication that defines much of Read's other work. I sometimes like this Mr Hyde sense of late-night impropriety but I miss the sparkling chemistry of our daytime Dr Jekyll.

It's not just an issue of tone. The show seems structurally unambitious, with a string of largely unrelated characters performing old-fashioned set-up-to-punchline stand-up sets. Read is sending up this tradition and in a way it represents one logical conclusion of the show's premise: a chicken will tell jokes about chickens; a letterbox will make a terrible stand-up because it doesn't have a mouth and so on. But an hour of bad stand-up in a room with a man who makes us feel slightly uncomfortable risks being very alienating – and, indeed, some do walk out.

But here's the thing: everyone's who's seen Little Howard will know that Read is a sort of genius and he is still a genius here – in the same way that Newton was still a genius during those hours he shone torches into his own eyes. There is a deranged brilliance in this show: specific moments and sequences such as the gruesome interactive segment in which we meet David Cameron; as well as something about the scratchy, lo-fi sensibility of the show's presentation – especially the illustration style. The technical parts – the real-time responses of each character controlled by a games console-controller in Read's hands – are also extremely innovative.

The stuff that is good in this show is the stuff going on on-screen. Much of the rest feels rather flat, with no defining arc, little interaction between characters and hardly any material that feels truly brave. What's left is a cast of potentially brilliant inventions that remain, in more ways than one, thoroughly two-dimensional.

Reviews by Tom Moyser

Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters

The Girl with the Hurricane Hands (and Other Short Tales of Woe)

★★★
Pleasance Courtyard

A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood

★★
Traverse Theatre

Breakfast Plays: Tech Will Tear Us Apart (?)

★★★★
theSpace @ Jury's Inn

Droll

★★★★
Summerhall

The Castle Builder

★★★
Summerhall

4D Cinema

★★★★★

Performances

The Blurb

How can a cartoon character improvise live with an audience? Not possible? One man can do it. Multi award-winning comic and animator Howard Read. A totally unique comedy experience. ‘Breaking boundaries in stand-up comedy' (Independent).