Harry Hill - In Hooves, New Theatre, Oxford

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The Independent Culture

From the moment that Harry Hill gallops on to the stage on a pantomime horse, the audience beam smiles befitting a sunny day at Ascot.

From the moment that Harry Hill gallops on to the stage on a pantomime horse, the audience beam smiles befitting a sunny day at Ascot. Not that an Ascot crowd would have warmed to Hill's repeated baiting of Camilla Parker Bowles during tonight's show.

This recurring theme, a ploy for which he is particularly adept, says a lot for the doctor-turned-comic. He may have the charisma and air of respect- ability of a light entertainer, like so many of his own establishment heroes, but Hill has bite, too. Amid the parading of other four-legged-friends, such as Stouffer the cat (suffering a nasty bout of nausea on this occasion) and the ubiquitous badgers, Hill has the nous to turn his absurdist hand to any target. Warming up for the tour, he was honing a parody of Jordan and her return to being simply Katie Price, but tonight it was the heir to the throne's future wife who stood in the way of Hill's daft procession of gags and characters.

The public perception of the 40-year-old comedian has always been divided between silly fool and clown genius, a choice not always aided by TV appearances of varying charm. Some detractors accuse him of being an early-Vic Reeves rip-off. But, though the comparison is understandable, you have to look further back in history for both men and their shared antecedents: Morecambe and Wise, the two Ronnies, Benny Hill, etc. Meanwhile, what sets them apart from each other is that Hill's box of tricks contains punchlines as well as props.

Of course, a particular similarity between Hill and Reeves is their "pub singer" renditions of popular songs. In the mix of Hill's medley tonight were Outkast's "Hey Ya", Kelis's "Milkshake" and, begging to be hammed up, Athlete's "Wires". The musical element of the show is most pronounced in the second half, when Hill swaps big collars for frills, looking rather like Lenny Beige. In fact, it seems that each part of Hill's act points to a comedy influence or contemporary - even his logo evokes that of The Goodies.

Not only does Hill sometimes borrow from other comedians, he also has to borrow heavily from himself to keep reinventing his lunacy. Occasionally, he comes over as too contrived, for example in the tale of a sea monkey, which probably won't have the legs to make it through the rest of the tour. Mostly, though, he is on terra firma and leads the audience a merry dance (literally, at one point) through such nonsense as "allegorical aquariums", in which we find out that the dolphin equivalents in the insect, fruit and bakery worlds are bluebottles, bananas and croissants respectively. The audience chip in their ideas, but Harry seems to have the "answers" - it's his universe after all.

By the finale - a rendition of "In the Mood" on 25 bulb-horns - you should be feeling joyous.

Touring to 10 April; extra dates planned in October and November

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