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John Robins HOWL - Theatre Review

If you were looking for the best 10-minute stand-up routine about slotted spoons, then look no further than John Robins’s latest show ‘Howl’. In a whirlwind of self-deprecation, anxiety and battling alcoholism, this is a comedian who knows his audience and thrives in their presence.

I will confess to not only being a fan of the Elis and John podcast on BBC radio 5 live but will openly admit to being what the fanbase call a ‘oner’, someone who has listened to their podcast from the very first episode on Radio X (formerly XFM). My day-to-day language has been corrupted with Robin-isms and I simply adore the pair as they talk so openly about mental health and their struggles in a genuinely hilarious way. So going into this review it is clear to say I am a fan, a regular vibe-taster, a Robins apologist.

For me, the show was a clever way for the funny man to talk about recent sobriety, and his past addictions of gambling melting into alcoholism melting now into his cross-fit routine without sounding pushy, forced or like a single-issue comedian. The way in which John talks about the anxiety of making simple decisions bubbling up inside him until he reaches breaking point is so real and authentic, but more importantly is recognisable for sufferers in the audience - the fact this story comes because he wanted to retrieve a poached egg from a saucepan is where his genius lays.

John is best known for winning the Edinburg Comedy Award in 2017 for his show ‘The Darkness of Robins’, one of the most chilling and brilliant pieces of stand-up I have ever had the pleasure to see. It would be extremely rude of me to compare ‘Howl’ to his previous successes as so many other reviews seem to do, whilst the show is not the same, neither is better or worse, simply different. Howl still feels very raw, moments of comedy are abruptly stopped by moments of realism and revelation, at one point shouting “I’ve got a mental health podcast!” at a moment seems he should not be educating anyone about mental health.

Whilst this is certainly a show that fans will appreciate, it is not the leisurely ride that podcast devotees would expect - which is why Robins starts the show with a warning of what to expect and when being a ‘fan’ can ruin a show. All I will say is do not mention a Ploughman’s. It is also not a traditional stand-up show that you would find at the Glee Club or Jonglers of a Friday evening, filled with belly laughs, puns and gags - this is storytelling.

John tends to lean into an Alan Partridge persona quite a lot in more recent years, emphasising minute details to grand heights or awkwardly discussing sex as though he was reading it from an Air Fryer instruction manual. Whilst this certainly works in John’s performance style, it is sometimes jarring to watch, and occasionally feels like an easy laugh. I have recently read the new Alan Partridge book ‘Big Beacon,’ and the voice in my head as I scanned the page was none other than Johnny JR.

My favourite moment was after a routine about the build-up of mould in jarred preservatives due to the heat radiating from an under-cabinet light. Never thought I would type that sentence in my life. John takes a seat in the spotlight on the stage with a microphone and a loop pedal and creates an anxiety replicating soundscape which includes his intense desire to be on the TV show Taskmaster, which he is rumoured to be appearing on in season 17.

Overall, the show was very funny, very clever, and well worth the watch. It is also nice to finally see John in a large theatre environment and not a comedy club setting a couple of hundred people. Although I prefer comedy to be in a small room, I prefer stories to be told to all that are willing to listen. John - You are one of the best story tellers we have.

I have never had a Ploughmans.


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