Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Nina Conti in In Your Face, 31 March 2015 ****

Lower Melbourne Town Hall until 19 April 2015 
Melbourne Comedy Festival
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Sun online 1 April 2015. KH

Nina Conti conjures some riotous moments in her show, In Your Face, and many of them are courtesy of audience members who become Conti's human ventriloquist puppets.

Joining Conti on stage for some mischievous ventriloquist shenanigans is Conti's long-standing partner in comedy crime, the jaded but wicked Monkey hand puppet. 

While Nina is sweet and charming, Monkey is rude, insulting and gets to say all the things Nina thinks but couldn't possibly say out loud without sounding like a jerk. The Monkey can be a jerk and we laugh.

"What he says is not what I think," she pleads. "Yes it is," quips the Monkey, her other self.

After some chat with people in the front row, what follows is some risky comedy that relies not only on audience participation but individuals coming on stage, wearing half-masks and being manipulated in the nicest, funniest way to look like idiots.

Conti keeps smiling and schmoozing her victims and making them look and feel good, the golden rule for any performer inviting audience on stage.

She straps a bulky half-mask over their mouths so they can see but not talk, then she operates their mask-mouths remotely, providing the voice and improvised dialogue for her new co-performer who is a total novice.

Masks are disinhibiting and can cause people to do totally out of character things, as if possessed by the mask. That makes great comedy when it works and it works most of the time on this opening night but, with impro, even the bloopers are a hoot.

These audience members really know how to accept an offer from an improvising comic. They accept, over-accept and advance the story like crazy.

We have a woman who is a producer of TV shows about animals (Really!) whose mask tells a story about a flying donkey – with some rude bits.

Another masked woman gets so wildly phobic about phantom spiders that she whacks Nina over the head with a giant banana.

Two teenage girls, both of whom end up being called Fionnuala, become gruff, dopey bloke-masks that play guitar and accordion and sing a totally mad song.

There are some absolutely hysterically funny gems in this show and it will be different each night, with new masks and new performers, so there can be no spoilers. 

By Kate Herbert

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