'Talk to the Hand' - Nina Conti
E4 Udderbelly, London
Nina Conti and her simian alter-ego, Monk, are no newcomers to the UK comedy scene but they never fail to amaze and delight. Ventriloquists may be a rare phenomenon in the twenty-first century but even if they were as common as ‘man with microphone does observational humour’ Conti would undoubtedly still be one of the scene’s brightest stars.
Alongside the now familiar Monk, we are treated to a range of new and delightfully funny characters such as Lydia the loud-mouthed New Yorker and Leonard the poetry writing Owl.
Of course, the show starts and ends with Monk and fans of Conti will notice several familiar routines mixed in with new material. Monk is, as ever, caustically rude and his relationship with the embarrassed, ever-grinning Conti is hilarious and slightly incestuous. Monk takes every available opportunity to undermine Conti and the whole act, endlessly deconstructing the illusion. Despite this it is almost impossible not to suspend your disbelief and enjoy Monk and all the puppets as living, breathing characters separate from Conti. This is sure testament to Conti’s ability both as a puppeteer and a thrower of voices.
I say voices because Conti masterfully gives every puppet a unique and engaging voice and even takes audience suggestions for the slightly drunken Lydia happily flipping from Australian to Brummie to Welsh-Indian.
Whilst Monk, Leonard and Lydia are entertaining, the show’s star is the softly-spoken Gran. Judging from the reaction to her arrival on stage Gran is clearly building up quite a fan base of her own. Introduced as Conti’s own Scottish grandmother, Gran is charmingly funny, gently scolding Conti for her ‘tart’s shoes’ and cursing the woes of cheap air travel (via DHL). Gran’s section of the show included the most amiable crank call I have ever heard and an excellent blindfold trick that amazed as much as amused.
It is these moments of incredulity that make Conti’s act shine even more brightly. Mixed in with the gags about monkeys and the positioning of her hand in the aforementioned monkey there are several moments in the show when Conti truly beguiles us. Without giving her act away hypnotic opera singing and vodka-soaked soliloquies are marvellous moments of showmanship.
If there is a flaw in the plan it is Conti’s occasional over-reliance on self-referential humour. Her continual deconstruction of the ventriloquist’s relationship with her puppets is hilarious but at times repetitive.
However, the charm and consummate skill of her delivery carries the show and an hour, even in the slightly soulless and very noisy Udderbelly, passes in an instant. Highly recommended.