In his first full Edinburgh show, Jonny Leonard takes issue with stand-up comedians’ perennial bugbear – children’s literature. Dissecting the factual and moral discrepancies of classic children’s stories and from there taking inspiration for his own fiction, Lennard delivers an extremely well-written, inventive and hilarious set.
Imaginative and well-crafted whimsy
Taking the stage, Lenard could not look more unassuming. However, his wiry frame and mop of blonde hair mask a keen wit and impeccable comic timing. The main through-line for the show is based on the time he was coerced into babysitting his niece, the daughter of his well-off hipster/doctor brother. Before going to bed, she insists on a bedtime story. Lennard eventually gives in to her demands, despite the fact that he’s missing the first half of Jurassic Park on ITV.
He explains that classic children’s stories just don’t cut the mustard for him in relation to children’s experiences growing up today. He underscores this by giving a line-by-line deconstruction of The Owl and the Pussy Cat which is masterfully conceived and delivered.
Lennard’s onstage persona is, at first glance, superior and detached, with a lot of the material based on allusions and word-play which might seem more at home on the pages of the G2 Guardian newspaper magazine. However, he is a patient performer and always willing to give the audience the extra second and a half it takes to catch-up with him. In a bigger space, parts of his routine could get lost but the intimacy of the Assembly Rooms Studio 4 is an ideal venue for Lennard’s Demetri-Martin style delivery.
Lennard’s imaginative digressions never stray too far from the main narrative. The Owl and the Pussycat tale is followed by excerpts from the comic’s own trilogy of children’s books which chart the life of the protagonist Megan as she grows up. These are deceptively dark, with a definite sense of Roald Dahl about them, and surprisingly lyrical at points.
There is a piece of audience participation involved too, where one member of the crowd is invited onstage to take on a drawing-based challenge. This section comes from nowhere and in the hands of another performer could seem forced and risk a loss of momentum. But Lennard’s low-key confidence means that it seems like a natural progression of his narrative and provides one of the most memorable sections of his set.
If you like non-confrontational, low-energy, imaginative and well-crafted whimsy, Jonny Lennard is the man for you. Even if you don’t, you may want to reconsider after seeing it in action.