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Ventriloquist Nina Conti and 'Monkey' (Photo via BBC)
Ventriloquist Nina Conti and ‘Monkey’ (Photo via BBC)

Nina Conti – one of the leading figures in modern British ventriloquism  – was in New York last week (July 26) to premiere her highly personal film Her Master’s Voice.

With her at the East River waterfront outdoor screening for the documentary was her world weary glove puppet Monkey through whom she often speaks. He’s a big star in the film.

Conti’s jaw was clenched as we heard Monkey offer up his verdict on the premiere: “This is hot stuff. I’m all for it. More like this, thanks!”

Her Master’s Voice brought the audience some brilliant displays of ventriloquism. But it’s a strangely moving and intimate story that’s told.

The film chronicles Conti’s trip from her home in London to a ventriloquism convention in Kentucky. Traveling with her are puppets bequeathed to her by British theatre impresario Ken Campbell, who was her mentor. The creatures are to be laid to rest in a special graveyard for the puppets of dead ventriloquists.

Through conversations with the puppets  – and Monkey – we learn of Conti’s inner conflicts – and details of her relationship with Campbell.

“It’s a very personal journey – almost a home video that then made it into a movie,” says Conti.

During the film Monkey is quite candid – at one moment he reveals that Conti had a sexual relationship with Campbell.

Conti appears to endorse such unguarded revelations.

She’s clearly interested in how puppets affect interpersonal dynamics.

Speaking through Monkey she says “Human beings don’t say the first thing that comes into their head – they say the second thing. But the ventriloquated doll gives us access to the uncensored mind – so let’s get to the uncensored stuff.”

Conti’s film has been getting a lot of attention since it won an audience award at its world premiere at SXSW in Texas in March. It’s also had an outing on BBC tv in the UK and it will be released on DVD in September.

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Filed Under: Nina Conti
By Tom Brook