“Isn’t she the daughter of someone famous?” asked Andrew (quite correctly) before ruining his apparently uncharacteristically thorough pre-show research by adding “It’s John Conteh, isn’t it?”
The Whingers had cogitated that an hour of ventriloquism might be stretching things somewhat. But as they had pretty much covered all the Fringe bases of plays, stand-up, cabaret, puppetry, magic, beatbox and – heavens preserve them – even mime it seemed that (assuming contemporary dance was off the menu) it had to be done: Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand.
But their trepidation was quickly tucked away as neatly (but less ignominiously) as a vent act’s hand from the moment Nina Conti stepped onto the stage and proved she should soon be as well known as her famous papa (Tom Conti, should you really need to ask).
The thing about Conti is that she looks too girl next door, somewhere between a Sandra Bullock and a young Lorraine Chase to be funny, but it soon becomes clear that her slightly innocent (in contrast to her foul-mouthed characters) mildly scolding persona is part of the charm and brilliance of her schtick.
Despite the fact that her act partly deconstructs ventriloquism you soon begin to believe that the puppets have a life of their own and cannot possibly be mouthed by her, despite her constant references to break the illusion she creates.
When she puts her most well-known character Monkey back into its basket you think the show might falter but some of the best moments are yet to come. Although Phil’s personal favourite was easily an endearingly haughty poetic Owl there isn’t one moment in the show where it’s less than hilarious and her finale involving some audience participation was so well handled that the Whingers were left in awe.
One of her “victims” turned out to be a seventeen year old girl. “Is she too young?” a genuinely concerned Conti called sweetly to an unseen person at the back of the auditorium. Clearly she wasn’t and there was no holding her back. For once the Whingers were happy not to be selected so that they could appreciate the remarkable ad-libbing the girl’s appearance on stage elicited. She then went on to top this with the girl’s initially reluctant brother.
With the festival over Andrew asked Phil to choose his three favourite shows, an impossible task which he had to negotiate to be extended to five. Unhesitatingly, even when he was only allowed three choices, this was the first to trip off Phil’s tongue. And you could see his lips move.
Just like when he’s reading.