Edinburgh Fringe: Nina Conti is Monkey, comedy review: Fine ventriloquism that's enjoyably close to the bone

Nina Conti is Monkey
Nina Conti is Monkey

“Nina Conti was a woman of the nineties and noughties,” we are told, “who wouldn’t say or do anything which might make her appear less f**kable.” This psychoanalysis comes from Conti’s sidekick Monkey, making his first solo appearance onstage; just a lumbering monkey suit with a gruff, sweary voice and a problem – unlike nineties and noughties Conti, apparently – stopping himself saying wildly inappropriate things. “Nina and I used to come onstage with her hand up my bottom,” says Monkey with a rumbling bellylaugh, referring to the hand-puppet version of ‘himself’ which she usually performs with. “Now all of her is up there!”

Of course, what is a full-body monkey suit with an animatronic face for if not harassing members of the audience, and Monkey’s interactions are enjoyably close to the bone; pity the over-keen guy, for example, who ends up enthusiastically simulating sex with an ape before the whole crowd. When she can bear the heat no longer, helpful volunteers prise the suit from her and Conti is revealed. As Monkey hinted, she is reserved and polite, which is a contributing factor in the finely-honed perfection of her act. She isn’t just a fine ventriloquist with a capable line in silly voices and working with the crowd in person, but she brings each element together in something like theatre.

With a dressing rail of her masks behind her – detailed cartoon faces which she places on volunteers, working their mouths with a hidden button to talk through them – she creates ridiculous scenes with her semi-willing assistants, urging them to play guitar and dance along to songs she’s devised from their actions. With the smaller Monkey making an appearance, this is something of a Conti greatest hits show; yet by actually inhabiting her creation for a while, she poses an interesting question about just how much a ventriloquist uses their puppet as a guise for their darker thoughts.

Underbelly Bristo Square, until 27 August. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/nina-conti-is-monkey