Nic Wright

DVD review: Nina Conti, Dolly Mixtures

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If ventriloquism still conjures up images of balding men in holiday camps, or moronic Americans with morally questionably puppets, then you should probably seek out Nina Conti.

The world’s fourth best ventriloquist, as she introduces herself, together with her gaggle of strange bedfellows, boasts one of the most fascinating and singular shows out there.

Conti herself is a fizzling firecracker of a performer, bristling with neurosis that spring to life whenever she shoves her arm up the backside of one of puppet pals.

The most popular of which is Monkey, who provides us with some introductory chatter, along with some bizarre questions concerning God, and a little touch of Shakespeare. Monkey, a sullen little creature with an uncanny knack for self-awareness, is not only the voice of Conti, but the voice of the audience, picking apart Conti’s act and her mental state on our behalf. Conti and Monkey’s back-and-forth subverts the expectations of ventriloquism from the outset, suitably setting the tone for the rest of the show.

Next to emerge from Conti’s bag of tricks is Little Nina. Representing both Conti’s daughter and her inner child, highly-strung Nina is a psychologist’s wet dream, and her ‘song’ is a highlight of the set, full of surprising and inspired lunacy.

We’re also introduced to Conti’s flamboyant, misunderstood rescue Pit Bull, Killer, and her clairvoyant Scottish granny, who puts on a Derren Brown-esque performance of her own. But bending the rules of her craft in more ways than one, Conti has some rather unexpected bits of puppetry up her sleeve too.

Stefan, based on her swarthy builder, is a full-sized dummy that requires a member of the audience to step into his body to bring him alive. While Conti acts out her and Stefan’s romantic mountain getaway, the aforementioned audience member  is forced to tag along with her increasingly outrageous interactions, widening the scope for Conti’s antics.

She continues to rope in the audience with her mask skit. Once again hijacking the bodies of hapless punters, this time using bizarre animated mouths in her control, Conti clearly has a huge amount of fun putting words in the mouths of her living puppets, cleverly tailoring ‘their’ speech to their body language.

A whip-smart closing bit pulls the show unpredictably together, with a dark and oddly touching set-piece that sees an old man hoping to go out with a bit of a bang.

Edgy and delirious, the Conti spews anxious, razor-sharp madness with laser-like focus; each character is a fun-house mirror held up to its master, with hilarious and ever-inventive consequences.

Nina Conti: Dolly Mixtures is out on DVD from Monday 24 November. Buy from Amazon for £12.