If there’s one near-forgotten art form due for a revival – along with storytelling and morris dancing – it’s surely ventriloquism. At least, it is difficult not to be convinced by this fact after an hour in the company of Sarah Jones, a ventriloquist who mixes modern sensibilities, sophisticated meta-comedy and ingenious classical awareness to create a very childish show aimed squarely at an adult audience.
The show’s arc is an exploration of Jones’s journey from childhood loner to an adulthood in which giving away her voice to a lively cast of puppet characters acts as a barrier from her own solitude. It’s a nice concept and one that is far more lightly delivered than it sounds, with Jones’s persona built around a kind of fashionable awkwardness, a nerdy Felicia Day-type vibe. It’s a character, but not one that feels too superficial, with the human-puppet relationships riffing on all sorts of neuroses and complexes. One recurring strand speaks of a certain feminised desperation for family and children, a female mirror of the male impotence theme that many British comics use for self-deprecation.
This theme also shows off the learned classical grounding that Jones incorporates frequently and delicately into the routine. Some of the earliest recorded ventriloquism is found in ceremony rather than entertainment, with the voice thrown to supposedly possessed body parts such as the stomach. Jones’s voice-projection onto her own womb and to a new born baby made from a blanket acts as a nod towards the more informed audiences members whilst having the comedic and emotional pulls that make it as rewarding for the rest. The meta-comedic elements are just as sophisticated, adding a post-modern twist to the form whilst staying inventive and silly enough to never seem pretentious.
Jones is not as good at comedic monologue as she is at smart dialogue, making the stand-up bits that bridge the gaps between the appearances of the puppets feel a little too functional. In fact, the more bodies on stage the funnier things get. The highlights of the set are the puppet of ‘Uncle Bruce’ and his smaller puppet of Jones herself, the pillow-case Yoda, and a hapless volunteer brought onstage to have the voice of Jones’s future husband thrust upon him. Ironically then, Jones does play pretty well with others.