Little Howard And The Magic Pencil Of Life And Death

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

This is, remarkably, the first dedicated children’s show Howard Read has performed at the Fringe, despite the obvious youngster appeal of Little Howard, the world’s first interactive, animated six-year-old comedian.

But even though it’s in that section of the programme, it’s still among the funniest shows at the festival. It appeals to both kids and adults but, like The Simpsons, it’s almost wasted on the youngsters – and not just for the gags that soar over their heads.

And, from the other point of view, it’s refreshing to see a children’s show that isn’t all noise and primary colours. Read has brought his stand-up sensibilities to the genre, so the show feels more naturally funny than the over-the-top clowning of other entertainers.

The father-son relationship between the Howards gives the show a heart, there’s affectionate teasing between them, mainly from the animated idiot savant; and while his creator might get frustrated by the badly-drawn boy, he never means to get angry. The audience have such a genuine empathy for this cartoon that they aaah instinctively when he drops his virtual ice-cream or when Big Howard snaps at him.

This balance, however, is disrupted when Little Howard discovers that Big Howard has become the father of a real-life child, Samson. The sense of betrayal only adds to his pathos-filled determination to become three-dimensional himself. Which is where the Magic Pencil Of Life And Death – not to mention the 3D specs – come in. Yes, Read, with the aid of fellow animator and Book Club accordion player Martin White, has literally given his creation added depth.

The actual telling of this adventure needs some tidying up, with lots of to-ing and fro-ing caused mainly by Read trying to play two parts, but kids love the gimmick.

It’s the other set pieces before we get to this, however, that make this enjoyable across the generations. Kids will especially love the interactive element, with volunteers swatting a fly buzzing across Little Howard’s screen, or throwing a ball to him, not to mention the silly human version of Guess Who? that Read devised. But the smart verbal exchanges – and a great parody of children’s stories – will certainly appeal to everyone.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Aug 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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