Strassman, Pleasance Theatre, London

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Ventriloquism is a strange art. There is no doubt that to be a good ventriloquist you must have skill and persistence, but there is also something absurd about making a living from being able to say “bottle of beer” without moving your lips. Then there are the dummies, sinister creatures with their nightmarish combination of outspoken malevolence and impassivity.

The key to David Strassman’s success is that he makes the absurdity and creepiness of his chosen profession central to his act. He is a very skilled ventriloquist, but the focus of his act is not on how successfully he can pull off the trick, but on the psychological territory it allows him to explore. And the show is underpinned by the smart ironic device of constantly emphasising the tricksiness of the act: the more real the dummies seem to become, the more Strassman reminds us that they are only dolls, yet this only serves to make them more vivid.

He has several puppets, among them Chuck Wood, a foul-mouthed, sick-minded, trailer-trash kid who humiliates Strassman; Ted E. Bare, a bashful teddy who uses his cuteness to manipulate Strassman; Ted’s grandfather, a grouch who spits out politically incorrect observations; and Kevin, an alien with a superiority complex. The dummies bully Strassman, abuse the audience and, remarkably, bicker among themselves, with Strassman switching voice and personality with lightning speed to conduct their squabbles. But just as he convinces you that he is trying to control a set of unruly individuals, he undercuts his own achievement. “Strassman,” taunts Chuck, “d’you realise you’re standing there having a three-way conversation with just yourself?”

This self-mocking irony runs through the show and with it the implication that the little monsters Strassman creates are all aspects of his own personality. Strassman also plays with the mutual dependency between person and puppet, and raises questions about who is working whom. Having broached the intriguing territory of personality and identity, he does not do much with it, however, getting hung up on sexual fantasies. Still, he makes cool, ingenious comedy

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