Thursday, 26 August 2010

Live Performance | Music (well, not really) | Night of the Living David Strassman

The guy up there – that’s David Strassman. The chap behind – Chuck, or in the show Strassman is currently peddling at this year’s almost-done Edinburgh Fringe, Zach. To understand why the name-change was necessary, I suspect you need to have seen Strassman’s previous shows, which I haven’t. Still, Chuck, Zach, in photo-form, the wooded thing’s way creepy right?

Right. Ventriloquists’ dummies are horrible. As anybody who grew up with even a peripheral awareness of Goosebumps would surely agree, ventriloquists’ dummies are waaaaaay creepier than Monster Blood and at least on the same level of creepiness as the utterly traumatising Barking Ghost. Nobody remembers the Barking Ghost. I do.

I do.

Creepy in photo-form. But not live. I very recently saw Duality, said Strassman show, which is completely brilliant by the way – apparently Strassman’s well worth looking up generally, I can’t comment (beyond pointing to this) but the way Duality riffs off the usual tired, clichéd questions of metatheatrical performance-existentialism in bounding, multi-facetted, ever-replicating, robotic and foul-mouthed ways is breathtaking. As theatre as well as paradigm-redefining NU-ventriloquism. But what was potentially most striking about Duality was the way that, in Strassman’s hands (hand), Zach wasn’t really creepy at all. The thing was fucking alive – just quite simply alive, talking, moving, alive. I frequently had to enter exactly the sort of interior monologue that the show centres on (as a way of understanding how and why ventriloquists ventriloquise) in order to convince myself that Zach wasn’t actually a real boy.

It’s this extraordinary sense, born out of the just-close-enough-to-human-ness of the design of an original ventriloquist’s dummy, that makes me think another protagonist in the ventriloquism renaissance that we’re sort of witnessingJeff Dunham and his palette of rather more cartoonish creations – is missing a trick. (Oddly, Nina Conti, the daughter of Tom Conti, Emily’s father in Friends, and an absolute babe to boot, doesn’t suffer from the same problem, despite the fact she puts her hand in a monkey. I can’t explain this. Maybe it’s because she’s an absolute babe. That monkey exists.)

And it also made me realise something: ventriloquism is the Rosetta Stone of live performance. To understand all of the best things, the most important things about live performance, one need only watch a ventriloquist.

Watching a man or lady attempt to compete with, I don’t know, Avatar via an fundamentally ridiculous talent (for even the best ventriloquists move their lips a bit, and look ridiculous when they’re not moving their lips because people actually move their lips when they’re not talking, it turns out, so really ventriloquism makes absolutely no sense) that celebrates the bloody-minded stupidity of human bodily craft for the sake of, best case scenario, an interesting take on the nature of interiority or vaguely surprising reflections on the notion of dialogue, worst case scenario, a framing method for tired jokes, should be an intensely depressing experience.

But watching said man or lady succeed in achieving a far more human, living, breathing artificial reality than any amount of apparently flawless technology will ever produce, via the teeniest details – a dummy’s eyes moving at the right time, a practiced, fluid body-language between person and puppet – is, it turns out, completely bloody heartwarming.

Human beings are a bit shit. Pinocchio really happened. Hans Teeuwen can sing a song and have Little Ronnie eat a Mars bar at the same time. This blogpost's a bit shit. Ventriloquism's a bit shit. Ventriloquism will, therefore, never die.

No comments:

Post a Comment