Comedy: A bigger laugh

LENNY HENRY

READING HEXAGON

first came to prominence as a precocious 16-year-old winner on New Faces, and he has not veered very far from the mainstream in the intervening 25 years. His live act contains barely any politics and precious little that you couldn't re-tell in front of your granny. He's about as alternative as a visit to B&Q on a Saturday afternoon, but who cares? Henry is very funny.

His new show is by no stretch of the imagination subtle. Even before he comes on, the set - a garish red backdrop proclaiming the words "Lenny Henry Large!" flanked by two huge silhouettes of the comedian pointing centre-stage - tells you as much.

And at two and a half hours, the show also drags towards the end. At the Reading Hexagon last week, I could happily have lived without Henry's encore as Bunny Manhattan, a Sammy Davis Junior-style Vegas supper-club crooner in an eye-patch and a spangly gold suit. And the choice of subject- matter can tend towards the predictable. Yet more Viagra gags, anyone?

But Henry's performance overrides such quibbles; he wins audiences over with the sheer force of his personality. Large isn't the half of it. The vivid electric-blue suit he wears for the second half only enhances the extravagance of the proceedings. No routine - whether it's Henry reaching for things on a high shelf or a lap dancer trying to gyrate with loose change in her gusset - is too insignificant for him to resist acting it out in expansive style. No wonder he is constantly towelling off the excess sweat generated by his full-on performance.

For all his hyperactivity, the 40-year-old Henry is now more reflective; his material seems to have grown up with him. Some of the most thoughtful sections of the show are concerned with getting older and the responsibilities of parenthood (which can, of course, entail trying to outdo other fathers and build the most elaborate scale-model of a thatched Tudor house for your child's school project).

Nowadays when he sees scantily-clad 19-year-old women walking along, instead of going "whoar!", Henry says to them solicitously: "you'll catch your death walking around like that. Come on, I've got a cagoule and a flask of soup in the car."

Near the end, I noticed that someone in front of me was taking notes as well. It was Dawn French. Surely she can only have been writing a note to stick on the fridge later saying: "stonking show."

`Lenny Henry Large!' is on tour nationally until 6 June

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