'Puppet Master' - Paul Zerdin
Gobo stars and Las Vegas style revue music set the scene for Bloomsbury Theatre’s launch of English ventriloquist Paul Zerdin’s autumn tour, 'Puppet Master', sharing the bill on this occasion with the comic juggler Ben Langley. Ventriloquism has indeed become a starry art once again, since the global success of Jeff Dunham, and Zerdin plays heavily on the form’s current aura of celebrity. As the title suggests, the show is also a celebration of things puppet-esque.
A figure named Alasdair Rimmer, best known from a series of scatological game shows - all teeth and wide eyes and perhaps a cousin of The Simpson’s Troy McClure - introduces Zerdin, with Zerdin concealed behind a flat. The comic then enters with an infant seat, claiming child duties. Baby emerges, of course, and flusters the ventriloquism through a mix of studied naiveté and insistence; Zerdin attempts to tell the bed-time story 'Little Red Riding Hood' but is forced to change the scary wolf into a fluffy yellow duck.
Rounding out the first half is Langley’s act, on par with what you might see on a good day at Covent Garden or the Royal Mile in August. It peaked for me when Langley blew up a rubber glove through his nose until it exploded. “Mucus is the new Chanel,” he tells spectators in the first row.
Zerdin returns after the intermission with a bottle of water. The smart-aleck figure Sam calls Zerdin a muppet and imitates characters from The Muppet Show. Zerdin does a card trick with the assistance of a senior citizen character named Albert in a remotely-operated wheelchair. Zerdin imbibes water as the audience waits for him to do a voice while drinking. “I’m not that good.” He chucks Sam into a trunk and the figure castigates him for breaking “the puppet code,” warning Zerdin that Miss Piggy will revenge him. A pair of audience “volunteers” don masks with moveable jaws that Zerdin works with a remote control. “Have you noticed how every time he wiggles his finger my lips move?”
Zerdin is a first-rate showman, and kept the Bloomsbury Theatre’s audience laughing throughout the night. Ventriloquism is tarred by a conservative streak and I found it difficult to stomach the sexist comments hurled at the pretty “Poppy from Brixton” in the front row and Zerdin’s lazy jokes about gay sex. But I have to admit I laughed along too.
'Puppet Master' by Paul Zerdin
Bloombury Theatre, London