“Be yourself, and others will find you”
“Be yourself, and others will find you”
You could go and see Nina Conti every night and be guaranteed of a different experience. It depends who’s in the crowd and Nina admits her audience are her show, but she is doing herself a disservice and she deserves credit for how clever she is.
Part of her act is dedicated to her alter ego – Monkey – a cheeky, naughty hand puppet, who has revived the forgotten act of ventriloquism. Who remembers the likes of Emu, Spit the Dog and Orville? They got the stuffing knocked out of them long ago and are now limply languishing in a puppet show in the sky. When ventriloquism is done well, it’s admirable and Nina has perfected the art. The test is when you actually start thinking Monkey is real – despite the fact you know he’s a furry sock with a squeezable face and a penchant for shouting the odd obscenity.
There’s one point during the show where Nina goes into a sleep and leaves the stage to Monkey to take over, rendering him speechless. It’s a strange and funny addition to the show, and the long protracted silence is eventually broken by the audience rousing Nina out of her slumber.
What about the audience? Her act depends largely on who turns up on the night, how willing they are to participate and how they behave on stage. It’s good to remember not to sit at the front, unless you have a bit of an exhibitionist streak and don’t mind the possibility of being dragged onto the stage and having a strange mask stuck on your face. What happens after that is anyone’s guess because Nina takes over the person’s persona by using the information she has gleaned from them. The results are hilarious. Some people become expressive in their movements when they are on the stage, while some others are more reserved.
Sometimes Nina has to control three audience members. She manages to keep a scenario going through conversation, by throwing the voices of three people, controlling their masks, while also using her own voice. It’s a tricky feat and requires a lot of quick thinking, dexterity and co-ordination. She makes it look seamless, but it’s totally unpredictable and you feel it could all go a bit wrong. She is however skilful in bringing the audience with her and her easy-going nature makes people relax. There also seems to be anonymity behind the mask. Perhaps it allows people to hide and feel like they are someone else.
What about the real Nina Conti? She spends a lot of time occupying the minds, personalities and voices of other people, so it’s interesting to try and figure out who she is. Judging by her show, she’s a fine comedian who doesn’t take herself too seriously. At the end of the evening she pulled on a bright yellow skintight Morph suit which was back to front and poked fun at herself. She’s clever, quick-witted, fast-talking and someone you could hang out with at the bar. She’s probably never alone though and it’s likely she’ll pull a few friends out of her handbag to join you.
The time is 4am, an hour considered too early to get up but too late to sleep. So what do people do at this awkward hour? It’s a void waiting to be filled with magical moments or a waking nightmare.
Scotland at night is imagined as a series of vignettes, depicting lovelorn insomniacs to hopeful romantics.
The show was created by Cora Bissett, Edinburgh band Swimmer One and David Greig. It also features contributions from writers such as Alan Bissett, Stef Smith and Kieran Hurley. Songs include Eugene Kelly’s Chips n’ Cheese and Emma Pollock’s Dark Skies.
The piano melody of Seafieldroad’s The Palace of Light was accompanied by Jen Paterson performing acrobatics with giant sheets suspended from the ceiling. The material eventually became a hammock as she disappeared to sleep inside a giant silk cocoon hanging in the air. The effect was stunning.
A young woman, the brilliant Frances Thorburn, was drinking wine and waiting by her laptop for her internet date. This was funny, tender and heartbreaking as her hopes for love faded to disappointment.
Saturday night in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street was played out on film, a repetitive montage to a hazy hallucinatory tune written by Kieran Hurley. And we saw a young lad as he staggered and swaggered along the streets, amid drunken bodies and neon lights.
In another scene, a taxi driver picked up a drunk, young girl and later on there was an ode to Chips n’ Cheese, a song written by Eugene Kelly which celebrates the drink-influenced delicacy of a night out.
Meanwhile further north in Aberdeen, we imaged the sea and the pier, as a woman tried to sell roses to couples romancing in the dark, and case of mistaken identity led to the sweet promise of love.
Paradoxically the darkness can serve to illuminate and exaggerate. Loneliness is exacerbated and in the dark you can feel like you are the only person in the world. It’s a feeling encapsulated by Isabel Wright as she gives birth on her own, taking a solitary journey into an unknown world.
And is the dark a comfort or a curse? A widower travels to Loch Lomond, he’s saying goodbye to his late wife, he’s alone with only thoughts of her and her ghost dancing with him.
It’s difficult to pin Whatever Gets You Through The Night into a genre. It’s a mixed bag, it’s thought-provoking and emotion-stirring.
Co-producer/collaborator of the show Andrew Eaton-Lewis, also of Edinburgh band Swimmer One and Seafieldroad says:
“It’s a bit like a circus. A bit like a cabaret. A bit like a party. A bit like a lullaby”.
It’s a good description.
There’s an album of beautifully crafted songs which includes the sublime The North Star by Ricky Ross and Rachel Sermanni’s Lonely Taxi, 2am.
Buy the album here: Whatever Gets You Through The Night – buy the album through Bandcamp
For more about the creation of the show read this interview with Andrew Eaton-Lewis.