MOST of us haven’t seen ventriloquism since the days of Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop or Roger DeCourcey and Nookie Bear.
So to get close up and personal with Nina Conti and her alter ego, a hand puppet called Monkey, is a surreal experience. But this was no genteel Sunday night entertainment, for the talented Nina’s sidekick turns out to be the earthy half of the partnership.
And for me, that’s where Complete and Utter Conti was in danger of coming off the rails. The somewhat schizophrenic mix of ventriloquism and stand-up comedy would have worked better had Nina been content to pursue the show’s main thread, the battle for control of the show between mistress and monkey.
It’s a cracking idea which allowed Nina to weave in some wonderfully mad characters; in particular a chat show guest called Lynn who fancied a transplant from a sturgeon to turn herself into a mermaid and, best of all, Nina’s own Scottish grandfather who used his gifts as a ventriloquist to keep his late wife very much alive.
A cloth cap and Nina’s considerable vocal talents brought grandad into powerful view. Here was loneliness and the fear of being shipped out of his home by social services.
Twin tortures kept at arm’s length by the illusion of a caring wife still by his side. Touching beyond measure it brought absolute stillness to an audience and probably the most powerful connection all night between performer and watchers.
Why then toss that aside by chasing laughs often with the crudest of humour. Monkey’s fixation with all things genital become a real frustration when Nina’s talent gave tantalising glimpses of just what power there was to be found with this hugely inventive mix of acting talent and ventriloquism.