Tim Vine, Playhouse, Harlow

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The Independent Culture

We're told to be nice to Tim Vine tonight by his engaging support act, magician and comedian John Archer, as it's his birthday.

We're told to be nice to Tim Vine tonight by his engaging support act, magician and comedian John Archer, as it's his birthday. However, when the 38-year-old Vine appears he seems unravaged by the prospect of nearing middle age and unabashed by his pre-teen outlook on life.

Appropriately, his first gag is a visual one where a model brain attached to fishing rod and line asks us to cast our minds back. Back to childlike simplicity and back to the antics of traditional comics would be good places to start. He hands Buckaroo to an audience member, quipping, "that's given the game away" and from then on the audience surrender to an onslaught of puns, wordplay and groanworthy gags, some one-offs apropos of nothing ("Velcro, what a rip off"), others more of a themed collection of one-liners ("I went out with an anaesthetist once; she was knockout, a local girl...").

The audience in Harlow, a place whose comedy heritage includes Attila the Stockbroker, Michael Barrymore and a plethora of roundabouts, lapped it up and more than made up for the half-empty venue. More hoots than groans indicated that Vine's new material was touching the funny bone rather than disbelieving ears.

That said, in among the quick-fire gags was some frilly nonsense that had no particular direction ("Does a mole prefer going up in a lift or going down in a lift?"), and some rather naff songs about flannels and ladders that were self-indulgent at best, and certainly unworthy of an encore in the case of the latter. As it was the first night of the tour there was plenty to be ironed out but, while the songs were something to smooth over, watching Vine flick through his prompt cards was rather endearing and amusing, and for someone with his output, totally forgivable.

Vine elicits the kind of hearty laughter you would associate with Victorian music hall; quite appropriate, really, as he is something of a throwback, with a dress sense (and occasionally movement) reminiscent of Freddie Starr and jokes echoing Tommy Cooper's. The late Bob Monkhouse said of Vine: "Tim has taken the trick of word-play and extended it to lengths no other comedian has ever dared before. A very funny man indeed." And just as Cooper and Monkhouse are considered by some as national treasures, Vine is worthy to follow in their footsteps as a consummate light entertainer. Thus far his high point in television was his involvement in ITV's The Sketch Show (though only Lee Mack was used in the US remake with Kelsey Grammer) but further mainstream exposure surely beckons.

Knowing that he would enjoy it, I took my father to the show. I asked him afterwards what he thought and cutting to the straight to the chase he said: "three or four stars", precisely echoing my thoughts. I've settled for four stars believing that this show will hopefully reach that level soon and without the aid of a ladder.

Touring to 28 May ( www.timvine.com)