'Thinking Inside the Box' – Steve Hewlett and friends
Having spent 25 years honing his craft, ventriloquist Steve Hewlett found fame as a contestant on 'Britain’s Got Talent' in 2013 and pays homage to his time with Simon Cowell and co in his new show ‘Thinking Inside the Box’. Traditional vent characters such as a cranky old man (Arthur Lager) and cheeky animals compete for stage time with those based on pop culture, including a puppet of revived 1980s singer Sinitta, who glides about the stage on skis.
Hewlett’s skills as a ventriloquist are supreme and the illusion is virtually complete – the only giveaway is a very rare hint of his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. His puppetry skills are also hard to fault. He is a fantastic multi-tasker who allows his puppets time to breathe, think and respond, with realistic results. The puppets are modern, soft foam creatures rather than traditional hard dummies.
A puppet version of Simon Cowell, which was introduced to the man himself during Hewlett’s stint on TV, forms a major component of the show. The arrogant Cowell puppet has ridiculously white teeth and a baby wrapped up in its arms. If, like me, you're not a fan of 'Britain’s Got Talent' or of Simon Cowell, his appearance in puppet form is likely to make you feel a little left out of the joke, no matter how spot-on the impersonation may be.
Hewlett mentions the Cowell puppet will be consigned to the suitcase in future as he is crafting a new show featuring fresh puppets, to be unleashed next year. This is welcome news as Hewlett is an extremely talented ventriloquist but some of these puppets based on famous personalities lack broad appeal. For example, the appearance of a Keith Lemon puppet with blonde bouffant and tacky white suit, leaves middle-aged punters looking absolutely perplexed as to what exactly is going on – particularly when the puppet says Lemon’s bang tidy catchphrase repeatedly.
Besides the pop culture puppets, Hewlett’s act does have something for everyone. Chii Chii the impossibly cute but mindless dog is adored by younger audience members, while Arthur Lager’s jokes and gentle innuendo appeals to older ones. Hewlett leaves some of his best material until last, particularly with Pongo, a large, stinky skunk with animated eyes, who makes classic vent jokes about puppet sentiency before taking a brave heckler down a peg or two.
There are plenty of ventriloquists who specialise in risqué humour; Hewlett isn’t one of them. Instead, he concentrates his efforts on clean material for a family audience and is master of the witty yet non-offensive jibe.
'Thinking Inside the Box'
Steve Hewlett and friends