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Nina Conti: Talk To The Hand

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Julia Chamberlain

This show is a tour de force, a phenomenal performance. I’m happy to become a paid-up member of the Nina Conti fan club after this. 

Starting in conversation with her original character, Monkey, Conti addresses the prejudice that vent acts attract for being naff, old hat, cruise ship entertainment. Collapsing in girlish laughter at Monk’s misanthropic, bilious utterances, she (I want to say ‘they’) keeps reminding the audience that she is speaking for both of them and that she does know what’s coming next but is disingenuously pretending not  to. 

The skill is not simply the vocal gymnastics but the manipulation of the puppet, so you absolutely do credit that it’s a listening and responsive being, even while you’re being reminded that it’s eyes are marbles. So far so good, but I was never a fan of Monk.  But  now there are new characters, the introduction of Leonard The Owl, whose lovely contralto voice and old-fashioned diction makes for an engaging, teacherly figure. 

The show really begins to let rip with Conti’s Scottish Granny.  The puppet is utterly  compelling, a human figure with sweet voice and fully rounded personality. Of course the rubber features are exaggerated – it would be disturbing to have something more realistic – but this is so skilfully performed that a believable warm relationship unfolds on the stage. It’s an extraordinary achievement. 

Here Conti also introduces a chat show element, tonight’s guest being magician and stand-up Ali Cook. Granny and Conti are such enthusiastic interlocutors, they can only be a few phone-calls away from hosting on a morning television sofa.  Even Cook, who must know the tricks of the trade and misdirection  was drawn in to talking to Granny rather than her operator. 

  Just when you think she can’t top this, another character, Lydia a ballsy New York woman is introduced and stone me if they don’t invite the audience to suggest accents for a  new voice for Lydia, and yes of course it’s a raging success as they slide between South African, French, Italian, Chinese and more.   There’s a terrifying bit of audience participation (if you’re the subject) but marvellous to watch someone given a vocal makeover and be coerced into dancing.  And this volunteer actually could actually dance, momentarily throwing Conti as he swung her in an accomplished tango dip.

As if you haven’t been entertained enough already, the lovely Granny is brought back to give Conti a chance to display her virtuoso ability further still. Granny and Lydia really are very liberating devices for Conti to use; when you’ve already suspended disbelief enough to accept ventriloquism, not having to go the extra mile and believe in talking animals and birds really helps. She is frighteningly talented, the show is hugely enjoyable and won me over completely.

Review date: 17 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Julia Chamberlain

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