Nina Conti – “Dolly Mixtures”, Leeds City Varieties, 15 April 2014

Nina Conti

Stage ventriloquism is a curious thing. It’s clearly a skill, and one that entertains, but you are basically watching a one-person play, with the puppets an extension of the performer’s “costume” and a conceit that we treat the puppet as a ‘real’ character. If the ventriloquist is good, we can even forget that they aren‘t real. Nina Conti, who is a very good artist (“Fourth best in the world”, according to her intro) goes a little bit further, and her act could be described as a ‘meta’ one, in which she discusses the nature of ventriloquism itself, and its attractions, both to the audience and the performer.

In one section, Conti chats to various members of the audience at the front, in order to ascertain who might be possible ‘stooges’ later in the act. One of them was a mental health nurse, and Conti couldn’t resist asking what ‘diagnosis’ might be responsible for her act. “Loneliness” was the response, and this was very much in tune with the general direction of the act.

Each doll was meant to represent a different facet of her personality and/or personal history. Some were more immediately funny than others though, when we reflected later on the evening, we found some of the sections we thought relatively weak turned out to have had some of the funniest moments. And there was plenty to think about later.

Funny, but also thought provoking and occasionally moving.

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