Little Howard and Big Howard: At Home With The How

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

Creating the wonderful animated six-year-old Little Howard was a brilliantly inventive leap for Big Howard Read, enabling him to combine his considerable talents for stand-up and animation and using technology to create a genuinely new form of comedy.

Now he has the problem of working out what to do with his two-dimensional prodigy, once the novelty of seeing a cartoon interact with an audience has worn off. The banter is as funny as ever and the technical achievement as impressive, but its in the application of this that success or failure lies.

So in this follow-up to last year's Perrier-nominated offering, Read has opted for a sitcom approach, making no secret of the fact he hopes this would be an ideal format for television.

The premise, then, is that Little Howard is at risk of being put into care by the evil social worker (camply overplayed by the hard-working James Holmes in his third Fringe show of the day) unless Read can prove that his home is a suitable environment for such a young tyke.

That may be had to prove, since their flat mates ­ in both senses of the word 'flat'­ are the sleazy, verminous pigeon who manages their careers and a wisecracking robot stand-up 'from the future' with a propensity to explode. Well, this is animation ­ anything's possible.

Read again harnesses the wizardry to impressively ingenious effect, especially in the efforts he makes to bring his cartoon creations off the screen and into the three-dimensional world.

He's also unveiled, if you'll excuse the pun, another new character: Britain's first female Muslim ventriloquist, with no Perriers for guessing who inspired her. She is a fabulous creation, looking ridiculous with her identically burkhaed mini-Me and with a thoroughly depressing stand-up routine about oppression, misery, torment and death. Read is not one to see a sensibility without trampling on it, and his finest moments always come from the stupidly inappropriate comments he or his imaginary friends utter.

It's all wonderful stuff, but there's not quite enough to go around. The narrative Read's chosen often gets in the way of the delightful comedy, rather than enhancing it. It's a tricky problem, as the characters so obviously need a plot to exist around, but this particular one doesn't do justice to Read's fine creations.

Nonetheless, this is as resourceful a show as we've come to expect from him, even if there are only enough hilarious moments for a show half this length. And that just happens to be the length of a TV sitcom

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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