VENTRILOQUIST Nina Conti performed her latest show ‘In Your Face’ at the Lowry theatre on Sunday night (October 23). A mix of traditional puppeteering and innovative variations awaited for the Salford audience.
The show, as Conti declares, is 90 per cent improvisation. A seemingly in-trend style of stand up, particularly last night as she shared the Lowry with Irish comedian Jason Byrne, a man famous for his improvised skits.
Conti is nothing short of an outstanding ventriloquist, able to make her chosen puppet instantly believable.
Monk, a character who is very straight talking and degrading towards the audience and Conti herself, kicks off the show. It resembles something of the PG Tips cuddly monkey, only appearing to have had a much tougher life.
Conti, with her acute ventriloquism skills, builds such a strong personality around Monk that it seems counterintuitive to refer to her puppet as ‘it’. One audience member said they didn’t know whether to look at Nina or the monkey.
Monk is used as a tool to set up the latter part of the show, but is still hilarious in its own right. Conti talks to the front row alongside Monk; him constantly undermining both her and the audience’s responses.
The usual stand up conventions are cycled through when chatting to the front row with Conti asking people’s names and occupation, however, Monk offers an extra dimension, saying outrageous insults that perhaps audience members may take offence at. But they can’t, because you can’t send a fluffy monkey a letter of complaint.
Conti plays with the very nature of ventriloquism, shattering the illusion to literally create a handful of jokes.
These are staples of her comedy and act as a framework of guaranteed laughter if the improvisation with the audience falters, however, this is rarely the case.
Conti pushes the boundaries of her art form by using face masks on her audience members as they are dragged up on stage.
She controls the movement of the mouth on these masks with a little button, turning her punters into malleable puppets and providing a vessel to showcase her impressive off the cuff humour.
The slightest twitch from her participant is picked upon and exploited for laughter. A wipe of the brow, a sleeve roll, even a little itch provides material for Conti to jump on.
Just back from seeing Nina Conti. Very funny!
— Mal (@MrMalGM) October 23, 2016
In a build up for the show’s finale, Conti hides in a sack in the centre of the stage with Monk sat on top taking questions from the audience.
Unlike the rest of the show, this routine doesn’t quite deliver the side-splitting laughs, but in hindsight it serves as a material gathering exercise for Conti to use later.
Dragging several people on stage at once, Conti then constructs a fantastically silly narrative with audience members strapped into face masks. Their attempted mimes guide the story.
The masks seem to be liberating to the wearer, leading to unprecedented but hilarious outcomes.
Saw @ninaconti tonight, real gut-busting laughter all night. Absolutely recommended. Monkey is my new favourite thing.
— James Inman (@JamesFInman) October 23, 2016
Dancing started as the theme of the night’s showstopper, which then morphed into the truly ridiculous scenario of an ostrich farm, with the mask wearers playing ostriches and laying eggs with silly mimes. Even Conti seemed amazed at what great sports the Salford audience turned out to be.
There was constant wholehearted laughter while pure anarchy commenced on stage, to the point where I was searching for my inhaler. I don’t even have asthma.
Conti fully shows her ventriloquism skills in this latest tour. She somehow juggles several voices with an array of accents, all while keeping pace with the preposterous scenario she’s just created, and still managing to fire out jokes.
Conti’s ventriloquism is in a different realm to what people think a ventriloquist is. Her act s superbly original, you certainly won’t get the mischief and chaos she creates from anyone else.
By Adam Lewis