Review: Nina Conti at Criterion Theatre, London

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Comedic ventriloquist Nina Conti continued her residency at the Criterion Theatre in the heart of London’s Piccadilly Circus for her ‘In Your Face’ show, which will run there until the 12th March. The comedienne is best known for appearances on the programmes like Live At The Apollo and Russell Howard’s Good News.

‘In Your Face’ is almost entirely improvised, Conti plucking inspiration from the audience each night with just a few go-to tricks to pull out of her sleeve. With the help of Monkey, her trusty sidekick, the Hampstead-born star was able to provide a laugh-a-minute up until the interval.

Surprisingly, Monkey was able to provide more laughs than Conti’s famous mask routine. Monkey acted as her alter ego by proclaiming what Conti really meant as opposed to what she was actually politely saying to audience members, flirting and insulting. The mask routine, where Conti places an operational mouth over a participant (see video below), did have the audience in stitches however, particularly when Nick, the law student, got up and acted out ‘shapes’ he wanted to give his friend for her birthday.

It is quite hard to articulate how funny the mask routine is without you being there, but the way Conti is able to improvise on the spot and create humorous content just from the mannerisms, movements and little details she reads in the participant is very impressive.

Following a few more participants in the masks, the safety curtain fell. The second half, unfortunately, would not live up to the first.

The second half started brightly, with Conti crawling into a bag so that Monkey could be “alone” with the audience. Audience members were then encouraged to shout out questions to which Monkey would comically reply. Following this segment, Conti invited up a few of those that had questioned the primate and this is where things began to get a little stale.

I personally think the issue was that it was very hard to create comic content from just the occupations of the participants on stage. There was a police woman, a satellite co-ordinator, a milkman and a “postman” (it turns out he was actually an actor). Despite those four occupations sounding like the start to a bad joke, Conti struggled to improvise a comedic routine for the duration of time she needed to. There were some very funny moments, but the overall segment seemed to drag and felt forced, which was a shame considering how funny Conti had been in the first half of the show.

The evening finished with a very quick segment where Conti turned herself into a puppet. Climbing into a back-to-front morphsuit and applying one of her masks to the back of her head, she invited audience members to shout out things for her to do. There were a few funny shoutouts, with “downward dog”, “moonwalk” and “sit on a chair” bringing the biggest laughs but, again, the segment felt forced not least because the suggestions from the audience were quite poor towards the end.

Overall it was an enjoyable evening. Nina Conti managed to prove her worth as a beloved British comedienne. It was a shame that the usually high level of comedic content was inconsistent throughout the show. But at the end of the day, the fault of that falls as much to the audience as it does to Conti considering the show was almost entirely improvised. So if you do find yourself in Piccadilly Circus between now and the 12th March, a trip to the Criterion Theatre is very worthwhile.

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22 years of age and Live Editor here at The Edge. In my spare time you'll either find me on a basketball court dunking like Jordan (that may have been a dream...), going to gigs or attending stand-up comedy shows!

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