As the title may suggest, comic ventriloquist Nina Conti’s new show Dolly Mixtures is a bit of a mixed bag; not in terms of the overall quality, which is excellent, nor in terms of the of the performance, which is superbly done, but instead because of the tone, which varies between the irreverent and the downright bleak. This is not as negative as it might sound. Conti’s new material provides some fascinating insights on what her puppets mean to her, presenting an experience somewhere between her appearance on Russell Howard and her much more cerebral documentary.
This is not to say that the laughs have been totally drawn out of her act. In fact, the older ideas are funnier than ever; Monk, her wonderfully sarcastic monkey puppet, has been relegated to role of compere. This turns out to have been the perfect move for him and his improv with the audience at the beginning of the show works flawlessly. In the same vein, the human ventriloquist doll - where Conti forces members of the audience to do ridiculous things through rather disturbing dummy masks - has had new life breathed into it, becoming even more funny than the original. New sketches based around newly crafted puppets are often similarly animated, including a brilliant new piece of audience puppetry involving a foreign builder and some press-ups.
However, these parallel with a much more serious underlying message contained within the show. Conti tries to explain how the various puppets bring out the different elements of her personality. These lead to far more serious sections, including an embodiment of her young self (who Conti calls her daughter) and her great uncle, who has all of the hallmarks of a man with dementia. The ideas behind these lead to serious moments of consideration nestled amongst the humour. Unfortunately the shift between the comedy and poignant moments is all too brief and this can lead to some uneven tonal issues. However, this does not harm the show overall, which is equally hilarious and fascinating, and by the end you’ll wish you weren’t a real boy so Conti could give you part of her personality too.