Nina Conti: Complete And Utter Conti

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Even though Nina Conti was happy to have critics review early performances of her Edinburgh debut, it would probably be better if she hadn’t, as Complete And Utter Conti is, well, incomplete. But even so, there are enough great moments to suggest it will be wonderful when it’s finished.

It doesn’t auger well when she forgets to bring a rather vital prop out of the dressing room: Monkey, her constant companion. A ventriloquist without a dummy is just a nutter talking to herself.

As the show progresses, she occasionally loses her place, gives the characters the wrong voice, stumbles over the links or confesses that the script is illogical, or even unfinished. None of this fazes her, so at home is she on stage, and there’s even a suspicion that some of it is deliberate, to give the show a relaxed, fluid feel to capitalise on Conti’s ability to ad lib freely between her personas. She has the actor’s gift of making everything seem spontaneous, even the club routine she’s been performing for years, small elements of which make an reappearance here.

But generally Conti is making a bold and ambitious attempt to move her chosen artform, which so often seems moribund, in new directions. Many ventriloquists have made such a claim, but very few actually achieve it. Conti looks set to join this elite club if she can conquer the glitches.

The show is a diverse series of set pieces, under the guise of a variety show Monkey is putting together. First is a Trisha-style confrontation show, where Conti plays a woman wanting plastic surgery to become a mermaid. She voices Monkey as the unseen interviewer, while another puppet is her disgruntled husband. You can see why she gets confused.

There’s poignancy, too, as she acts out the part of her ageing grandfather, himself a ventriloquist, imagining he still hears the voice of his long-dead wife. It’s something of a bleak mood-dampener for a comedy show, but demonstrates how Conti is trying to think outside the box. Or rather, think outside the ‘I don’t want to get in the box’ mindset.

A few other moments don’t quite work out as well as they could, especially what turns out to be a pivotal segment with another familiar puppet monkey, which is decidedly underwritten.

But then there are at least two moments of pure genius. Her one-armed South African voodoo expert is a riot, especially when Conti reveals what she needs her other arm for. It’s uproariously hilarious, and an image that will stick with you for a long time. Likewise, the ultimate pay-off in which Monkey takes over Conti’s body is brilliantly done, starting subtle and weird, and getting more outrageous and more weird as it goes along. These two segments are fantastic tours de force, original, funny and done with brilliant flair, easily worth the ticket price alone.

It’s harder to be so unequivocally positive about the whole hour, though, as there are still so many creases to be ironed out. But when they are, as they surely will be, this will easily be a four-star show.

Reviewed by:Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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