Nina Conti: Dolly Mixtures

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s an excess baggage consignment that would have raised eyebrows at Australian customs: seven holdalls containing seven diverse foam puppets.

They represent Shakespeare’s seven ages of man, Nina Conti tells us, from her constant companion, Monkey, the ‘mewling and puking’ infant, to the ailing figure of her old philosophy professor in second childishness. There are some liberties taken with the Bard’s sequence – there are two ‘lover’ segments and the soldier becomes a dog – but it’s a useful enough framework for an episodic show.

Using Monk as the baby similarly seems a bit of a cheat, but this former Barry-winner’s fans would not forgive her if the foul-mouthed simian were not to make an appearance. He helps set the scene with some mild comedy-club-style ‘And what do you do?’ banter that’s perfunctory, but limbers the audience up for the participation ahead.

Childhood is represented by her eight-year-old daughter – a clear projection of her younger self – that allows her to continue to explore her favourite theme of the ventriloquist’s split psyche, and ends with a brutal song that’s one of the stand-out set pieces of the hour. Two of the others involve audience members becoming the puppets, using devices that are not entirely new to ventriloquism, but are executed with charm and wit – and the good sportsmanship of her volunteers.

As she moves away from dependence on good old Monk, other new puppets include her mild-mannered yet deliciously cutting Edinburgh gran; and the pitbull with an aggressive reputation but a voice that’s more Miranda than Rambo. The canine’s odd verbal tics of crying out for a lost brother – or a biscuit – hints at a dark back story.

Despite the new characters, there’s still a heavy dependence on her favourite joke of revealing the artifice, which is used a little too often when characters flunk their lines, say something inappropriate, or prompt an interaction with an audience member who then addresses the doll, not the woman working it.

But in other areas, Conti retains her inventiveness and her eye for a memorable finale (the sight of her being carried around in a cage by a giant monkey from a few shows back is unforgettable). This time around she takes Shakespeare’s description of the end of our lives ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’ rather literally, and messily, to draw a satisfying show to a satisfying close.

Review date: 6 Apr 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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