Ventriloquist extraordinaire Nina Conti is back with her famous masks, ready to use you as her puppet. Managing to remain delightfully witty whilst also extracting uncontrollable belly-laughs,
Conti has mastered her joyful craft, and it’s a delight to be in her mind.
She begins with the more traditional ventriloquist act, using her puppet Monkey to speak to audience members both as herself and her rude alter ego. Laughing along with the outrageous jokes said by ‘Monkey’, Conti charms the crowd. Monkey goes from being her wingman to her rival, encouraging the technical team to ‘zoom in on the lips - make the bitch work’. Silly ad libs based on audience chats are interspersed with several meta puppet jokes, along the lines of ‘you're not wearing your vibrating watch, that’s a shame.’ Whether improvised or scripted, sarcastic or crude, these moments are responded to by Conti with such ease and charm that the whole room chuckles.
Sketches from the Monkey and Conti’s double-act are interspersed with her famous masks. These make unsuspecting audience members into grotesque caricatures, their huge lips manipulated by a device in Conti’s hand. She ventriloquises a conversation between herself and the members on stage - at times involving six people at once. Assigning them voices and traits, Conti effortlessly manages to manipulate them to do as she pleases - or rather, is so good at responding to their movements that it seems as if she is influencing them.
The synchronised effect is incredible, like watching a carefully crafted voice-over of the scene rather than an improvisation. There are three sets of masks for us. The first is a couple who, under Conti’s mask, hand and lips, become a jolly nurse and her girlfriend a scowling police officer. They end up singing ‘if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands’, and the entire stadium claps along in hysterics. For us, the couples work better than the surreal group at the end of the show - though the way that Conti’s singlehandedly narrates a crowd is awe inspiring, the technical prowess actually distracts from the simple pleasure of seeing someone become a giggling marionette.
Seeing strangers laugh in Conti’s voice is contagious. Partners double-up at seeing each other in the ridiculous masks, but the silliness invites the whole room to feel included. Conti has mastered her joyful craft, and it’s a delight to be in her mind.