By BRUCE DENNILL
Conrad Koch is a smart, considered performer, whose hyperactive intellect gets a constant workout thanks to his act – short bits of solo stand-up linking longer ventriloquism segments – featuring a range of different puppet characters whose personae require Koch to switch perspectives regularly.
Despite its title, Ramapuppet is not a particularly political show, which is unusual, as that is in that arena that Koch has really made his name. It may be that in the context – coming out of a pandemic, with escapism and light relief a sensible focus area – that less agenda-driven material makes sense. But also, as Koch ruefully points out, many audience members simply don’t know who many of the politicians he’d like to refer to are, as nobody’s really reading the news.
Whatever the reason, it’s a strategy with high yields in terms of the entertainment value of the show. Koch’s most famous creation, Chester Missing, takes centre stage early on and simply drowns out his operator with confident, critical commentary on everything from Queen Elizabeth II to Koch’s manscaping habits. What is immediately noticeable – and it’s a feature of the whole show – is the manic pacing Koch manages to maintain as he converses with his puppets, switching back and forth with frenzied precision as his dialogues combine observations on current affairs with improvised interactions with audience members brave or crazy enough to sit close to the stage. The effect of this non-stop interaction is that it becomes almost impossible to prioritise looking at Koch over watching whichever puppet he’s animating at the time. So if you are the type to scrutinise a ventriloquist for minor lip movements, you’ll miss more than half the show – good luck to you.
The material varies to suit the personalities of the different characters: Hilton, the ostrich who gives relationship advice; Mr Dixon, school teacher of 43 years; Ronnie the internet troll, and Missing. Hilton is a delight, from the way he is brought to life using just a few simple props to his daft, infectious laugh. Mr Dixon is an eccentric archetype most of us have met and a means to gently mock audience members who are a bit slow on the uptake. Perhaps the least convincing of the lot is Ronnie the internet troll – ironically because he is so much more reasonable than the idiots who make up the sector of society who inspired him.
Koch also shows that the real strength in his act is his ability to manipulate whatever resources he is given by getting two willing and good-natured volunteers to be dummies for him as he provides them with dialogue. It’s a showcase of the craft of both a good ventriloquist and a poised comedian and inspires a sustained collective belly laugh that leaves the audience momentarily breathless.
Shrewd, sharp and enjoyable.