MICF: Nina Conti

Like that assortment of sweets from my childhood, Dolly Mixtures by ventriloquist Nina Conti has a variety of colours and shapes, some enjoyed more than others.  Novel flavours mean that there’s more to this show than watching a lady putting her hand up a series of puppets.

Nina Conti
Nina Conti

Known for her routines with sidekick Monkey (still tart, but noticeably less abusive than usual in this 6 pm outing) in MICF gala performances, Conti improvises parts of the show from audience responses, which in comedy is often a minefield waiting to destroy a show’s momentum. Often I’d much rather see the skilled performer than the awkward audience member. Happily, Conti is probably one of the best I’ve seen at manipulating audience interaction, as apart from one underwhelming mentalist section with her Grandmother character, the segments were quick-fire and amusing.

While most of the various characters she presented had punchy routines, the odd section seemed to run a bit too long. However, it’s early days and the show should become tighter as the season progresses.

I’d not seen Conti live before and was pleased to see that she’s thought about how to distinguish this ventriloquist show from others around. While there were good laughs at the puppets, it seemed the biggest laughs came from Conti’s use of the audience as characters. The sequence, and the props that made it possible, showed a nutty inventiveness that I particularly enjoyed.

While the show was good fun, I was intrigued by the way Conti has chosen to package her Dolly Mixtures. At the start she says that the characters are based on the seven ages of man, and immediately, sheepishly, claims that she doesn’t know that Shakespearean speech well. It was a most remarkable retreat, and I wonder if Conti is worried about being too toffee. She’s sneaky clever though in her final scene with her elderly philosophy Professor. Here, depending on your palate, you’ll find the last treat either ridiculous or a surprise flirtation with questions of life and living. It is the sort of scene that I will remember after almost all of the beers and jokes of MICF 2013 are forgotten.

Anyone keen for an amusing hour should see this show, and based on the hints there, I’d very much like to see what could happen should Conti choose to unleash some existential allsorts.


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