John Kearns – review

Soho theatre
Kearns's comic armoury of distracted pauses, eccentric antics and daydreamer philosophy starts brilliantly before tailing off

"Imagine I couldn't do this," ruminates John Kearns at one point in his Soho theatre debut – his mind wandering, not for the last time, off point. But what is the "this" that Kearns is doing? He was named best newcomer at the Edinburgh comedy awards for this show, a distinctive hybrid of character act, standup and "anti-comedy". Kearns appears in false buck teeth, tonsure wig and riding a saggy pantomime horse. He's an excitable loner masquerading as a comic – now narrating his misfit life, now demonstrating it in the form of distracted pauses, eccentric antics and daydreamer philosophy.

The first half-hour is a delight. Kearns is simultaneously charming and enigmatic: you love him, and you enjoy trying to fathom what he's up to. There are some fine set-pieces to tee things up: Kearns "na-na-na"-ing interminably to instrumental funk, like a dweeby kid at his bedroom mirror; Kearns listening intently to Woody Allen's advice to young standups, which he promptly undercuts with a perfectly timed punchline. That's about as close as he gets to conventional standup. There are fewer jokes than there are lingering silences, the best of which finds Kearns re-enacting the moment he enters his hotel room on a lonely visit to Berlin.

The excitement at encountering this idiosyncratic, tragicomic and gloriously daft personality dissipates a little in the second half. Kearns's energy diminishes, he's not always audible, and the gaps between laughs lengthen as our host reflects on the meaning of love, our desperation to feel something – anything! – and his preference for rain over heat. This section is compelling but low key; Kearns's finale is wilder, but over-dependent on a silly costume and broad audience participation. Whatever "this" is, he clearly can do it, and brilliantly – for half the show, at least.

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Brian Logan

The GuardianTramp

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