The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Nina Conti: The Dating Show
Richmond Theatre Touring until Feb 28 ★★★★★
Ventriloquism was as dead as most of its acts until Nina Conti (right) came along. Lord Charles, Orville the Duck, Nookie Bear… names to make you shudder, gathering dust in a long-forgotten corner of showbiz. Then, in 2010, Conti made the switch from stand-up and, with a little help from the foul-mouthed Monkey, singlehandedly reinvented the genre.
Monkey is the dark sidekick to Conti’s sweet presence, constantly scolded for filthy asides and audience abuse. Now she has given her show extra legs by devising a formula where volunteers wear masks that Conti operates via a cable, turning them into human dummies. The slightest gesture, eye flicker or shrug of the shoulders is seized on as she transforms them into a grumpy Scottish harridan or bewildered American tourist.
Then things get complicated. First, Conti comes on stage in a giant Monkey suit and interviews speed daters from the audience. One by one, they are sent packing with a string of expletives. With Conti boiling up inside the suit, she then emerges as herself, setting up a 16year-old boy and an older woman on the date from hell. To make matters more excruciating, she summons the poor lad’s parents and the four of them have an awkward sing-song.
It’s comedy gold, but when you factor in Conti’s wizardry at mimicking all four voices while improvising a song, it’s off the scale.
The Dating Show may not produce any matches but it’s the perfect post-pandemic pick-me-up. And no one complains at having to wear a mask.