James Campbell: Comedy 4 Kids, Criterion Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

It could be my worst nightmare, walking into the pink palace that is the Criterion Theatre with hundreds of boisterous children. I can't help acknowledge the potential irony of the pre-show music, "Stuck in the Middle with You" and "Too Much Too Young". However, if I, along with anxious parents, am worried that the next 70 minutes will be an assault on the ears we have two things to thank for avoiding the cacophony of pinging seats and bored chatter; first that these (largely) 6-11 year olds have not had their brains fried by computer games and second that James Campbell entertains them at the right pitch.

Unchallenged as the only children's stand-up (and let's face it, how many applicants could there be for this job?), Campbell is neither cute nor patronising. His act is stripped of frills; he wears a dark suit beloved of many adult acts, the stage set merely with a stool and a glass of water. Only the colourful backdrop belonging to fellow tenants, The Reduced Shakespeare Company, departs from the minimalist approach.

Without over-using comedy voices, groans and shouts the stubbly, shaggy-haired comedian leads kids down Izzardesque avenues; a routine about milk, cream and cheese coming from evermore unfeasibly-sized cows and the idea that your middle name is there for when your first one breaks goes off in all sorts of directions. Naturally long journeys are tiring but luckily the routine only occasionally rests in comedy slow-lanes and the kids are forgiving of the necessary gear changes. Along with the ubiquitous poems and songs about animals (including "I'm A Retriever" to the tune of The Monkees "I'm A Believer"), Campbell nods towards more uncertain ground such as step-parents and child labour. When he informs a child that her Gap top was probably made by someone her age, some of the parents hiss their disapproval. Yet for the most part the parents are having a good time.

"This is exactly what the kids need," a mother tells me at the end, having clocked "press row". I see her point, and have mused on the contrast between the audience reaction to this show and the muted response to some children's theatre extravaganzas to which I have been privy.

The only thing that could twist this new venture is a stand up comic for children by children, I know, it's a frightening thought, but perhaps inevitable given the rise of Tweenie pop stars?

But the rise of precocity has its upside. Towards the end of the act a cheeky young scamp from the balcony asks: "Is the show?" To which an amused Campbell replies: "I'm the warm up act, there'll be a troupe of dancing penguins along in a minute."

Every Saturday to 29 November at 2pm (0870 534 4444)

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