Her Master’s Voice
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 9th February 2014
Nina Conti certainly doesn’t look the stereotype of a crusty, holiday camp ventriloquist. Rather, this bright, articulate, attractive young Englishwoman has turned the cliché on its head, becoming a world renowned performer with her trademark Monkey and an entourage of quirky puppets, all of whom boast distinct personalities.
Her Master’s Voice is Conti’s story in her own (and her puppets’) words, as she embarks on a journey to Kentucky USA with a view to honouring a key figure from her past. As much a trip down memory lane as a putting to rights, Conti heads to Venthaven, a fabled place where decommissioned puppets go to see out their days. “Interviewed” by Monkey on their trip, Conti is prone to late-night chats where the device of speaking through a puppet allows her to bare what we might reasonably presume to be her soul, particularly when remembering her mentor and ex-lover, doyen of British avant-garde theatre, Ken Campbell.
It makes for a curious tale, part instructional video (did you know to speak clearly without moving your lips you have to learn to pronounce your ‘p’s as ‘k’s?) and part insight into a world some may consider sinister or old-fashioned. Certainly, as they conduct many of their tête à têtes from her hotel bed, Conti and Monkey seem to be playing the leads in their own strange but fascinating movie, which is (necessarily) intensely self-conscious in tone. It must be exhausting coming up with the questions and the answers, but Conti is adept at responding to Monkey’s quips in an extraordinarily natural (and humorous) way. Multi-taskers will be jealous.
A thoroughly enjoyable peek behind an unusual curtain, Her Master’s Voice is a film as slight but beguiling as its lovely protagonist.