The Big Howard and Little Howard Show

Note: This review is from 2003

Review by Steve Bennett

This may well be overanalysing what is essentially a cute six-year-old cartoon character - but Little Howard is something of a satirical deconstruction of the banter of stand-up.

After all, how complex can the "what's your name?/what do you do for a living?" riffing of your average compere be, if all the formulaic possibilities can be programmed into a 'response database' to drive a computer-generated, interactive toddler.

You see, for a two-dimensional creation, Little Howard has a lot of depth.

Not that this is the main appeal, of course. The lovely "aah, bless" factor of Howard Read's animated sidekick is what will really attract the audiences.

But it's a hell of a lot more than that, as Big Howard has ensured this year's show contains a decent narrative, new characters and some brilliant gags to match the technical invention on display.

A running thread is that since last year's equally delightful Fringe offering, the human Howard has become washed-up, an unnecessary burden holding back the real, animated, star.

He tries to disprove it by creating new characters such as Chalkie The Lemon Horse and H-BOT 2000 "a funny robot... from the future". Though amusingly, and deliberately, lame, it's the badly drawn cyborg who has probably the best single gag of the entire festival - a savagely brilliant one-liner about Princess Di that's worth the ticket price for its re-telling value alone.

Meanwhile, Little Howard is kidnapped by his cruel pigeon ex-manager, back from the dead and still quoting minor Eighties celebrities, who is determined to drive the double act apart.

The show really is pushing the boundaries of live performance, with the 3D Big Howard and, occasionally, the audience interacting with Little Howard over three screens. It's technically ambitious, yet Read seems completely unfazed when things go wrong, as they often must. When one screen goes blue and delivers the fateful message "The application Flash has unexpectedly quit", he just tells us to ignore it, and the show marches on.

But then Read has an indefatigable need to entertain; a spirit that ensures proceedings breezes along. Always funny, and at times downright hilarious, the show is infused with an infectious joy that will have almost universal appeal, whatever the late timeslot might suggest.

Review date: 1 Jan 2003
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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