Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Talk to the Hand.

Earlier this week the BBC showed a beautiful documentary Her Master's Voice, featuring ventriloquist Nina Conti, which amongst many things explored her relationship with her mentor, the anarchic theatre maker Ken Campbell and the oddly schizophrenic world of talking to a puppet. What made the programme so moving, was that Nina had been planning to tell Ken, who introduced her to the ventriloquism, that she planned to give it up, when he died unexpectedly in 2008. This, then was a cathartic elegy both to a man and an art form - all told in an extended dialogue between Nina and her savagely honest dummy, Monk.

This evening she was reviving last year's Edinburgh show at the Udderbelly on the South Bank, so we went along to have a look. Monk, as usual, stole the show, providing the unspoken subtext behind Nina's vulnerable demeanour. He insulted the audience, character assassinated his operator and generally cut through the worlds of illusion and bullshit with characteristic bluntness.

There were other characters, a salacious owl, the rehabilitated granny, who we thought had been retired to the ventriloquist's museum in Vent Haven and an American diva who tries to swap voices with Nina, before the evening ends with a hilarious sequence in which members of the audience fitted with face masks forced to show us their dance moves.

In 2008 Nina was ready to pack it in, unsure whether talking to the hand constituted a proper use of a life. Now, as she continues to hone her act and make programmes that muse philosophically on the theraputic value of imaginary friends, it feels as though she's treading some fascinating new ground.

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