Review: Nina Conti – In Your Face, Criterion Theatre

“Let me just fasten the straps…”

It’s a brave soul who opts to sit near the front of Nina Conti’s latest show, as it is pretty much 90% improvised through interactions with audience members who have the pleasure, dubious or otherwise, of being brought up on stage. Once there, Conti gives them a mask to cover the lower half of their face and they submit to the ministrations of this most talented of ventriloquists and entertainers.

Due to the very nature of the show, In Your Face will vary from night to night, depending on the quality, and gameness, of its volunteers, but that variety is also a strength. Conti clearly revels in the wide range of interactions that she gets to have and whilst encouraging sufficient details from those members of the stalls upon whom she alights, the assessment of the comic potential is clearly beginning, ready to click fully into gear just moments later once they’re strapped in and ready to go.

And it’s a great device. As Conti controls the movement of the puppet-like mouths and the sounds that emanate from them, the volunteers are free to react how they will – the best example tonight being the stockbroker explaining the complexities of the foreign exchange market through the medium of dance – with Conti doing all of the heavy lifting with a wide range of accents, vocal tics and hooting laughs.

Fans of Conti will be pleased to hear that her old pal Monkey is present too though for me, these sequences lacked something of the same energy though fortunately they’re quite brief and admittedly there’s a very witty pre-(and post-)interval sketch shows the perils of puppet hypnotism. The second half of the show repeats the formula of the first but amped up even more – a more inventive Q&A and then multiple audience interactions at the same time – the skill that Conti demonstrates by the end is truly immense and worth seeing, though you’ve been warned about sitting near the front, or speaking up, or drawing attention to yourself! 

Running time: 90 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th March

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