Nina Conti is Monkey | Edinburgh Fringe review by Paul Fleckney
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Nina Conti is Monkey

Edinburgh Fringe review by Paul Fleckney

Nina Conti can always be relied upon to do something interesting with the form of ventriloquism. Her deconstruction of the form has elevated it to new heights, and this year’s gimmick – flagged up by the title and poster – is that she’s now inside her puppet monkey. And so she appears onstage in a life-size monkey suit, complaining about the heat and not being able to see. 

It wasn’t clear where all this was going. There were some half-hearted attempts to set up the idea that she was looking for love, and she scoured the audience for someone to bring on stage. A young man from Oliver! was selected but was unsurprisingly cagey, though Conti’s questioning of him was very funny – legs wide open, leaning back as if she didn’t give a shit, ‘Talk to me Oliver.’ He was shooed off and it was all a little baffling. 

Who knows how long this new trick was supposed to last, but the show must go on etc, so Conti rid herself of the monkey costume and appeared as herself again. In the moment this was the right thing to do as, it wasn’t working tonight. Still, it might have been fun to see what Conti could have done performing the whole show as a human-sized monkey, provided she didn’t pass out in the process. 

And so she reverted back to her more usual shtick, which is to attach masks to members of the audience and pump a little gizmo that activates their jaw, while she provides the voice. There’s something horror-like about one person having that much control over someone else, which might be one of the reasons for how funny it can be. But anyway, immediately she was on a far firmer footing. 

From here on in, the show got better and better, with some moments that reduced the McEwan Hall to big, raucous laughter. Conti selected from the front row a man called Blaine and gradually brought out each of his family. In all honesty they didn’t give Conti a wealth of material to work with, other than the fact that two of the three children were Twins, and their mum hammed up her part as the uncooperative, pissed-off punter who’d rather be in her seat (yeah right). 

Conti stitches them up of course, giving them absurd voices, getting them to make digs at each other. Eventually Conti steers them into declaring how much they’d love to perform a musical. The subject of this is to be Blaine’s job, which is in IT, and mum is to provide the soundtrack, on a guitar she has no idea how to play. 

The family did their bit, not trying too hard to be funny, which would have been unhelpful, but doing about the right amount – especially the two parents bickering in the background while Conti was with one of the sons. 

The musical brings the show to the precisely the kind of climax that a performer wants, though not quite up to time, so Conti tags on a little coda, bringing out regular-size Monkey for a bit of proper puppet-based filth. It’s an easy gag to make, getting Monkey to shag something inanimate, but she does absolutely nail it. 

So an hour that undoubtedly provide a lot of laughter, just not from the new concept that the whole thing was sold on.

Review date: 20 Aug 2018
Reviewed by: Paul Fleckney
Reviewed at: Underbelly: McEwan Hall

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