Nina Conti: The Dating Show review – joy and chaos with the magic matchmaker | Nina Conti

IIs there a number in the comedy as engineered to make us laugh as that of Nina Conti? I’m not talking about her ventriloquism with her sidekick Monkey, who is excellent, and whom she always experiments with – as with the closest tonight, when she and the puppet exchange voices. I mean that faithful routine in which she slaps masks on the faces of her audience volunteers and gives them the floor in dialogues and looping scenes. For me, that never ceases to be gleefully funny – and generous too, as the eye is drawn to the comedy of his cronies, while off the ball it’s Conti pulling off several difficult tricks at once.

His current tour finds a (slightly) new context for the act. The Dating Show is in Southend to help audiences find love – or escape it, in the case of a volunteer who calls out for a new boyfriend and rejects the existing one, in song. (“Save me from Sean!”) Kicking off in front of an initially shy audience, it opens by recreating a couple’s first meeting at a chocolate workshop in Manchester. In a later sketch, Conti throws himself at the expressive gestures of a teacher’s hand and makes him suck in song (guitar right on stage by Dan Attfield) for a girlfriend who will “squeeze his balls”.

It’s an improviser’s talent, and Conti has it in abundance – that attention to potentially fruitful detail, which she will pick up on and work on in scenes of unexpected pleasure. There’s an interlude after the interval in which Conti appears in a life-size monkey costume to quickly hang out with members of the audience – and that’s the weakest section, in part because the bulky costume cramps her lightweight style to the feet.

But the final set is a masterful 20 minutes of organized chaos, as Conti plays all the voices in a six-person scene set in an erotic fire station. Her human mannequins, freed from self-awareness by their cartoonish face masks, happily throw themselves in as Conti strikes matches, spins vocal plates, and orchestrates inappropriate and sassy interactions between the mother and two grown children, among others, gathered together. on the scene. Shyness overcome, all is laughter in the stalls: Conti’s big number has once again worked its magic.

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