It's only around halfway through Nina Conti: The Dating Show that you realise just how hard she is working. The show expands upon her previous act with face masks that allow her to turn audience members into human puppets, by bringing up multiple participants and forcing Conti to speak in two, three and at one time, seven different voices. There is hardly any point in the show where Nina can just use her own voice.
A tour de force of ventriloquist skill
The effort she is putting in to the show really delivers. The pace is fast with four or five set pieces in the show which quickly deliver funny and often unexpected laughs.
Conti’s real skill though is not just the ventriloquism, but her ability to read the non-verbal cues from her guests on stage and put the words into their mouths that seem to uncannily match their thoughts.
Nina herself is such a sunny and happy performer that she really makes you believe that she wants to be there and is enjoying the show. However, her alter ego “Monkey” with his acid tongue and sharp wit, undoubtedly gives her the opportunity to distance herself from what she really thinks, while still being able to say it.
The risk with a show like this, is that pretty much the whole premise is built on the quality of the audience participants. One element of the show features a speed dating session for Monkey, where any audience member can come up on stage. Here you see the potential weakness, as in tonight's performance, the quality of those participants were not as good and Nina understandably moved it quickly on.
So the show is definitely clever and Conti is definitely working hard, but is it funny? Well luckily, yes – at times it's very, very funny indeed. Almost from the start and consistently throughout, Conti delivers silly laughable interactions which even the most curmudgeonly viewer would be hard-pressed to not find hilarious.
Overall though you have to admire a performer who is willing to work so hard and deliver so many laughs in a high risk strategy. During the show Conti not only does ventriloquism with her puppet and with audience members, but takes it to the next level singing, improvised songs and getting groups to dance at her command. It’s a tour de force of ventriloquist skill.