Little Howard and the Magic Pencil of Life and Death

Big Howard and Little Howard
Bloomsbury Theatre and touring
(2011)

Little Howard and the Magic Pencil of Life and Death publicity image

A charming funny engaging family show not to be missed, Little Howard and the Magic Pencil of Life and Death, is a show to suit all ages, though its target audience will be the same age as Little Howard, six.

Well, I just so happened to have a six-year-old companion and his artist mother in tow with me. How handy! And they thought it was brilliant, if I'm allowed to quote them.

The artist mother was very useful in explaining to silly old me how Big Howard does his magic, but I'm not going to tell. You'll just have to go and see if you can work it out for yourselves.

But then most of you will have seen stand-up comedian Big Howard and animated Little Howard on their very popular BBC One television show. Well, I haven't, so this was a lovely surprise for me.

There is also Little Howard's Big Book, which we dutifully bought, and had signed. As well as a free poster, which Big Howard will sign for you if you wait patiently, and don't jump the queue as one naughty mum did - such a bad example

But I can understand the eagerness to have a piece of Big and Little Howard. Now they are touring Britain, and everyone will get a chance to meet them. But if you can't get to their show - they are not sold out yet - their website is the next best place to visit with its games and tall tales. And their TV show returns for a third series in May. Not long to wait.

Adults and children are made to work very hard during the show, playing a live Guess Who from Big Howard's sketches of people in the audience. No need to be embarrassed, as his quick sketches easily go wrong - a bit like Tommy Cooper's magic tricks. But that's part of the fun.

Adults can let their hair down, if they have any that is, and uninhibited sparky children can go on stage to swat a fly on screen or throw a ball at Little Howard's 2D and 3D figure: that's the magic trick - how does he change from 2D to 3D - only the scary one in his black cloak and hood knows.

An ingenious concept, a stand-up comic and his six-year-old computer-generated sidekick with no nose and no ears, a stooge over whom he has total control. An easy show to tour, too - just a laptop, and a big white screen. The venues don't have to be big. Actually smaller would be better. The Bloomsbury was a little too big for that intimate feel, and Big Howard is impertinently intimate.

Before the show starts, the white screen on the stage keeps us distracted until the late stragglers get in. "Want to play a game?" gets an immediate response. Hooked from the very beginning. "Guess what I'm drawing." "Nearly ready to start. Just waiting for the LATE people." "When the late people come in, everybody tut."

The screen draws the latecomers - a wall of shame - all good clean fun. Relaxed humour, involvement, and, oh, it helps if you can read. If not, get someone to help you. Though I'm not sure Big Howard can spell: "Safety Crouton" for "Safety Curtain", I ask you! Big Howard has us eating out of his hand before he has set foot on stage (see what I did there?). Now that's clever.

Silly surreal bedtime stories, sing-along-songs - is Big Howard trespassing in Ken Dodd's territory? And the Magic Pencil, which is like Macbeth - aah, never say that word in the theatre, it's bad luck! The pencil can magic Little Howard from 2D to 3D but it has consequences

A big long and baggy, in a good way, with an interval for ice cream and a visit to the loo, Big Howard's show and his child-like personality and talent for drawing and storytelling and his easy rapport with his audience - I must draw breath there - one second - works wonders. I won't tell you any more, or there'll be no surprise for you. You won't be disappointed.

UK Tour April-July 2011
For tour dates and lots of fun activities visit www.littlehoward.co.uk

Reviewer: Vera Liber