Nina Conti: Dolly Mixtures at the Soho Theatre
In typically self-deflating style, Nina Conti introduces herself to a sell-out crowd at the Soho Theatre as “Britain’s seventh best ventriloquist,” though it’s hard to believe a) that the market’s that crowded and b) that there are six more skilled and successful pliers of the trade in the country at the moment.
Dolly Mixtures, as the name suggests, brings together a broad ensemble of puppets, giving Conti’s long-time sidekick Monk only a few minutes of stage-time to usher in the show’s general theme via a truncated recital of the “Seven Ages of Man” speech from As You Like It. This preamble also gives Conti the chance to conduct an impromptu meet-and-greet with the audience’s front row, whose intermittent presence onstage is another of the show’s organising principles.
Where other ventriloquists (whoever they are) might content themselves with a character as hilarious and likeable as Monk, it’s a testament to her skill that she’s just as funny when inhabiting the mind of an eight-year-old aesthete, a re-homed pit bull, a lusty handyman or the two geriatrics who emerge from the heap of holdalls that clutter the stage. Best and most elaborate among these is Polish labourer Stefan, whose body (a set of red overalls) is filled out by a strapping audience “volunteer” in order to show off his press-ups.
The most unique twist though is Conti’s now famous ventriloquism masks, which she controls remotely while they’re hooked to the faces of a further two audience members. The host’s rapid fire improvisation is impressive and her well-observed characterisations hit the mark perfectly. It’s difficult to summarise the content as the one-off nature of each night’s show is built-in to the act, but one feature that will carry through to any performance is how well the masks take the pressure off Conti’s unwitting guests, sparing them the usual bear baiting of stand-up audience participation.
Conti bounces off her puppets with the fluid ease of a confirmed and comfortable schizophrenic, indeed the possibility that the whole show is a complex celebration of multiple personality disorder is dissected at various points throughout the hour-long Edinburgh-friendly performance. Ultimately though, Shakespeare and psychology aside, the show revels in its own hugely enjoyable silliness. Dolly Mixtures is only running for another week, so get your tickets while you can.
Nina Conti: Dolly Mixtures is on at the Soho Theatre until 10th August 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
For further information and future events visit Nina Conti’s website here.