A tough slog for both audience and comedian
We probably didn’t need to be told but, at the beginning of Hide and Speak, Howard Read warns us that “this show is a bit odd”.
It certainly is. Read, a youthful looking 38-year-old animator, who writes and performs for CBBC, as well as doing jokes for grown-ups, weaves across the stage with Wii controls in hand, voicing a series of his own cartoon characters. Talking chickens who meet a grim end, a foul-mouthed snowman and a chuckling chimpanzee all vie for our attention as Read takes us through the story of the human race, and the development of comedy, over the course of thousands of years.
It is part-parody, part-homage to the history of British humour, as The Frost Report’s sketch on social class featuring John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett is re-figured with three apes in different stages of evolution.
There are a few good moments, but too many of the set-piece jokes fall flat. The audience groaned when, after one of the animated birds was decapitated while crossing the street, Read inevitably asked: “why did the chicken have to cross the road?”
Read won a patchy reaction for a hit-and-miss show. A prejudiced pigeon seemed to channel the spirits of Les Dawson and Bernard Manning and, in a running joke, audience members were invited to aim computer game-style shots at the leaders of the three main political parties. But what was the point of it all?
Hide and Speak veered between spoof, political satire and straightforward cartoons without mastering any of them. For all Read’s efforts – he drew the cartoons, voiced the animals and provided the narration – it is a mystery as to why he won such a strong slot as 9.30pm at the Gilded Balloon. At times, his struggles were more obvious, even shouting at the man doing the tech: “Put the house lights down because I can see them not laughing”. It was a tough slog for the audience and, no doubt, for Read himself.
Whatever acclaim he wins for innovation is cancelled out by the weakness of his material. He warned us at the beginning; it is an odd show. I warn you at the end; it is also a poor show.
Review written by Peter Edwards
• Howard Read: Hide and Speak is at 9.30pm at the Gilded Balloon