“I’ll cut the shit and get my monkey out.” It’s her final night of Edinburgh Fringe and Nina Conti is done with the pleasantries. She reaches into her oversized canvas bag and pulls out Monk, the monkey that featured on HBO’s Family Tree opposite Chris O’Dowd. Monk is cynical, sarcastic and unabashed, everything that Nina herself is not. The two have a love-hate relationship that Conti knows exactly how to exploit. It also doesn’t hurt that her ventriloquism skills are quite extraordinary.
Over the course of an hour, Conti shows that she is able to keep an audience engaged and in stitches both with her puppet and the masks that she gets audience members to wear, turning them into her life-sized ventriloquist dummies. Given that it’s the last night, there are some rowdy audience members that give Conti a run for her money, but she is able to laugh along and keep some semblance of organised chaos to the whole show. Monk himself plays a great supporting role, with his song titled, ‘My Face Hurts When I Play Guitar’ going down a storm. The hypnosis skit also goes down well; Conti has a knack for leaving the awkward silences a little bit too long for comfort to draw out any residual laughs in the audience. The nervous energy really works here.
Once Monk goes back to sleep, Conti is able to get the audience on stage and embarrass them as much as possible. A student studying the Spanish Civil War is forced to draw cartoons on a whiteboard; her boyfriend is then brought on stage and professes his love both for her and for his job in IT security (the irony isn’t difficult to spot in this situation); an inebriated Scottish lady and her partner are given couple’s masks and re-enact sexual innuendos with an inflated banana. Conti is able to improvise all of this whilst controlling exactly what the audience say (using the masks that she puts on them), which gives her total freedom to embarrass them as much as possible. The routine is made all the funnier when Conti herself corpses on stage, in particular when she is forcing the inflatable banana into an inflatable donut. Conti seems genuinely floored by this audience interaction and it makes the whole set more endearing.
Any performer would be exhausted after a run at the Edinburgh fringe and Conti is no exception. But she pours the last remnants of her energy into this final set and whilst it doesn’t go exactly to plan, the diversions ultimately enhance the whole performance.
Nina Conti: In Your Face played Pleasance Courtyard as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information about Nina Conti, see her website.