The ventriloquist who found her voice: Nina Conti on how her affair with a much older man gave her the confidence to go on stage.Jenny Johnson, Daily Mail, 12th July 2012
Nina Conti, daughter of Tom, had a relationship with Ken Campbell, the underground theatre maverick with eyebrows like cumulonimbi, who was 34 years her senior. As she said in her weird and beguiling memoir-cum-travelogue Nina Conti - A Ventriloquist's Story, Campbell was like "a truffle pig for other people's talents". And for some reason he took one look at Conti - a ringer for Pippa Middleton - and thought, you need to throw your voice through a small, mangy monkey puppet.
Which Conti did, successfully and wittily, for a decade, until Campbell's death in 2008 coincided with a career crisis. Going through their old correspondence, she found a note from Campbell exhorting her to attend the unlikely sounding World Ventriloquists' Convention in Kentucky. She decided to go, and yes, that event is as weird as it sounds: 300 homely-looking "vents" wandering around a grotty motel with garish puppets (aliens, newborn infants) trying to avoid those tricky plosives. (In one extraordinary sequence a fellow attendee demonstrated the art of bifurcation: moving your lips as if saying one thing while actually enunciating something entirely different.)
I don't know Conti's work well, but I liked what I saw from the film - her act seemed to extend naturally from her philosophical doubts about her vocation: at one point her monkey hypnotised its mistress whereupon it lost its voice and was forced to head-butt her back to her senses. But the clips of other performers made you wonder why you don't see more ventriloquism on these shores (it's big in America, apparently): an irresistible mix of vaudeville and metaphysics.
But as her diary-style to-camera pieces revealed, Conti was struggling. At one point she took to her motel bed to start crying on the shoulder of the Campbell puppet. The ventriloquist spilling out her guts to the hard-hearted puppet is a bit of a cliché, but Conti's "conversations" were thoughtful, funny and, in this particular scene, extraordinary. The Campbell puppet suggested bluntly to a teary Conti that her babyish monkey puppet arrived on the due day of a foetus she had aborted. No wonder she admitted she was reading a book called Problems of the Self.Mike Higgins, The Independent, 17th June 2012
While the film was shot through with melancholy, Nina Conti never allowed it to descend into the morose, not least because the comic targets on offer are just too plentiful for her to resist. Witty, mischievous, self-effacing and engaging, Conti is great company.Harry Venning, The Stage, 13th June 2012
A documentary about putting old puppets out to pasture was an extraordinary, beautiful piece of confessional TV, says Jack Seale.Jack Seale, Radio Times, 13th June 2012
A Ventriloquist's Story: Her Master's Voice was centred on a perfect Louis Theroux-equse subject, a vents' convention in Kentucky to which Nina Conti travelled with the puppets left to her by her mentor and lover, Ken Campbell. In its way, this too was a study of the psychological tolls of performance and self-exposure, with Conti musing on the odd business of out-sourcing part of your consciousness to a glove puppet. But it was a lot of other things besides - an odd, often uncomfortable film that dared to go to some very dark places.
Conti lay in bed at one point talking to herself about an abortion she'd had, delivering one half of the conversation in the person of her dead lover. At another she staged the "death" of her own sidekick monkey, dissolving into alarmingly plausible grief. I'm not convinced she'll ever be a great ventriloquist, but there was a risk and rawness here that I think would have made Ken Campbell proud.Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent, 11th June 2012
Welcome to the weird - but rather wonderful - world of talking with your hand up a puppet.Sam Wollaston, The Guardian, 11th June 2012
Documentaries these days always seem to have to feature someone going on a 'personal journey' ... and Nina Conti's award-winning film is no exception.Steve Bennett, Chortle, 10th June 2012
At first, this looks like a typically larky celebrity jaunt, as Nina Conti takes her suitcase of dummies off to a ventriloquist's convention in Kentucky. But, before you can say 'gottle of geer', she's being interviewed by her own dummies (a cute but revealing device) and exposing far more than the foibles of her eccentric colleagues in the trade as she comes to mourn the death of her mentor and lover, Ken Campbell.
Conti's personal and professional confusion is clear, but it steers clear of self-indulgence if not always self-consciousness. Dummies are often used to say the unsayable on stage; here, they do exactly that behind closed doors. The effect is obvious catharsis for Conti, and a fine, brave hour of TV for us.Gabriel Tate, Time Out, 10th June 2012
This outside-the-box doc follows comedian and ventriloquist Nina Conti on a most peculiar pilgrimage. We backtrack to when she was bequeathed a chest of dummies by her former mentor and lover Ken Campbell after his death in 2008. But now she has reached a crossroads in her career. So she takes her felt-and-fur friends - some cute, others creepy - to a special convention in Kentucky.
At the Vent Haven gathering we see astonishing examples of "distant voice" expertise, and Nina - daughter of Tom Conti - even uses her props to voice deeply personal confessions.
The film seems unsure of what it wants to be - it's certainly disturbing at times - but you will learn what bifurcation means.Mark Braxton, Radio Times, 10th June 2012