Nina Conti, now a household name from multiple television appearances, has done great trade tonight packing out London’s premier temporary fringe venue – The Underbelly at Southbank. Her blurb boasts ‘astonishing spontaneity, side-splitting characters and brand new surprises'. Well one out of three is correct. By surprise you mean how damn surprised I was about how horrible this show was.
Don’t go and see this show unless it is free and the other option is a just-for-fun root canal.
I was told after the show that ‘spontaneity’ was supposed to convey to punters purchasing their tickets that the show was improvised. If it was improvised it was without a doubt the worst improvisation I have ever seen (also ‘spontaneity’ does not equal ‘improvised’ so this falls somewhere between shoddy and intentionally misleading marketing). If it was not improvised then I am even more baffled because the show was, as mentioned, astonishingly, side-splittingly horrible.
Nina Conti has built a reputation on her indeed hilarious ventriloquism act. While I haven’t caught it before, I believe she lead a mostly willing audience member onto stage where they don a mask allowing Nina to speak for them with hysterical consequences. If you were expecting this on purchasing your ticket you’ll think you’re in luck upon entering the theatre. A pair of the infamous masks are pre-set on stage. The first couple of minutes of the show involves them and it is moderately funny. A good warm up for what we expect to be much the same. Unfortunately you will probably spend the rest of the hour waiting for them to come back and pleading with whatever applicable deity that Nina will stop making leukemia jokes while dressed as a human-size, dead-eyed primate.
Once she takes to the stage, the masks are quickly whisked off backstage while she spends the hour not doing any ventriloquism, but instead rolling on the floor gasping for air in the too-hot costume and swearing at the audience and technician. You might, like the dozen-or-so punters who went off to grab a drink mid show, be fairly confused when Nina gives up on life half way through the show and instructs the technician to play a song while she takes an ‘on-stage interval’ sat in a chair for five minutes doing absolutely nothing. You might also be slightly disappointed to find out the punch line to every single joke is essentially ‘f*** you then.’ And you might at the end of the hour think I simply cannot, CANNOT have paid £20 for this? You would not be alone. By far the funniest jokes of the night came from some poor man she pulled up from the audience to take the heat off her having to perform for ten minutes. While he sat and did all the talking she just occasionally chimed in with obscure sexual innuendoes.
If Nina wants to reinvent her comedy as the worst form of improvisation in the land then be my guest. But trading off her name and reputation to bring you a show that despite the blurb promising “experimenting with new ideas and some old favourites” is 99% just new ideas and sadly not good ones. If ‘work in progress' is her angle I’m afraid the tickets are going to have be free, or at most a fiver, and her show description should not suggest the ventriloquism act you know and love but instead a hedonistic monkey with another monkey strapped to its arm giving members of the front row the ‘double monkey treatment.’ This mostly involves you telling Nina your job while she operates the mechanics on two monkey masks both telling you that your job is (paraphrasing) ‘f***ing stupid.’ She doesn’t even do two different voices for the monkeys.
If you’ve got to the end of this review and you’re confused, I understand. I’m confused. By the look of half the audience, as dead-eyed as the monkey, they were confused too. Let me summarise; don’t go and see this show unless it is free and the other option is a just-for-fun root canal.