Nina Conti: Dolly Mixtures @ Pleasance Dome
More than just a projected laugh
Earlier this year, BBC Four screened two documentaries about ace ventriloquist Nina Conti, which took her on a quest to find herself. The first was a tribute to her ex-lover and mentor, comedian Ken Campbell, who had recently passed away and left her his puppets; the second saw Nina take a psychic retreat. Both made for often harrowing viewing, and there is no doubt at all that these journeys had a profound effect on Conti.
This new show sees Conti return to some dark places in her psyche, debuting new puppets, and is more satisfying than her previous work with Monk, her foul-mouthed monkey puppet who acted as a conduit for what Nina couldn't directly say. The first is initially based on her little eight year old daughter ( ''Mummy, why have you got such a psychotic focus on everything I do?") but is revealed to be Nina as a child (more self-reflexive stuff), culminating in the deeply disturbing song My Face Hurts When I Play Guitar for obvious reasons – her poor puppet's face strums the chords.
Brutal, but not as brutal as the treatment her Old Man puppet receives – Conti says he is her grandmother's brother, but surely it can't be a coincidence that he resembles Ken Campbell, had he lived to see old, old age. As she cradles him in her lap, softly singing Ally Bally, it's heart rending – until she kills him. Killing off the ghost of the man who inspired her every night? Now that is fearless.
Of course, her gentle Scottish grandmother makes an appearance, doing a psychic trick, as well as old favourite Monk (''You're seeing other puppets,'' he growls, "that's how diseases spread'') and Stefan, a new lothario character based on her builder is full of dubious charm; but Nina is best as herself, constantly berating her own technique, but endlessly endearing. Darker colours suit her.