I must be honest, I was a bit dof and didn’t connect the dots that Conrad Koch’s Puppet Asylum was basically the same showÂ My Pro Doll and Neuro Friends, but with a totally different title, and I saw it in Jozi when I was there in August. It is hard for me to see a show twice (unless it’s improv of course) and I had quite a few misgivings when I arrived at The Baxter for opening night last night.
I had nothing to worry about. Yes the set, structure and theme is the same, but this show has been nipped, tucked, shaped, and it has tidied up really, really well. (I can’t say cleaned up because it is absolutely, totally filthy actually). Set in a ‘puppet asylum’, three of the puppets are there, working with Conrad and a doctor on the phone, to help get over their puppet issues. The famous Chester Missing is there. Hilary the aging cabaret star ostrich (who looks exactly like Sybil Sands) is in rehab, and Ronnie, the green monster kid is in a box. They all have outings where Conrad tries to help them with their problem puppet stuff.
Conrad is an amazing ventriloquist, who has honed his skill really well over the years. His craft is slick, and he really pulls it off by being not only fast with doing all the different voices, sometimes in the same sentence, but also by being a good puppeteer. His puppets really come to life.
I love Chester Missing because I love Conrad’s political take, and because Chester is a great vehicle for that voice. Conrad understands perfectly how far a ‘coloured’ puppet can go (very) in dissing the current political status quo on all sides, while Conrad himself remains the voice of reason and moderation. I find Hilary hilarious, especially in her interaction with the audience (which I won’t spoiler here), and Ronnie is a complete crowd pleaser. These characters allow Conrad to showcase his skill, wit and stagecraft brilliantly.
Director Heinrich Reisenhofer has worked hard and well to develop this show and it has come such a long way since I last saw it. I have two little niggles. I think Conrad was nervous last night (being opening who could blame him) so the first intro felt a little forced and childish. Also, I wish the dialogue and repartee with each character was more markedly different; they all get into the same style of “yes I can”, “no, please” conversations. But, niggles they are.
I like that this show straddles stand-up, puppetry, ventriloquism and theatre. I like Conrad. I like Ronnie. I love Chester. Pretty good going. In my 2012 “call to action” campaign, this is a show I feel absolutely comfortable about saying “GO”.