Friday, March 17, 2017


When did you last go to a puppet show? I can’t remember the last time I did. I suppose I must have seen a Punch and Judy show at the beach in my dim and distant childhood (as we dodged the tyrannosaurs, yadda yadda yadda), but I can’t remember anything other than that. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a ventriloquist show.

David Strassman is a ventriloquist. He’s also an American. Despite this, he seems to have had most of his success in Australia and New Zealand, where he had an imaginatively-titled tv show, “Strassman”, in 2000. He’s toured extensively in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

The show was on a Saturday night, so we set out early to try and find a park on Taranaki Street before heading into old favourite haunt Zibibbo for a pre-show dinner. We’ve been there enough times to be recognised by the maitre d’. We went for the pre-theatre menu with matching wines, and we had some discussion about what wines to match – it was pretty much “tell me what you like and I’ll find something like that for you”. We ended up with a glass of pinot noir each to start (I know!) to accompany our duck liver parfait and pork rillettes. Mine was a dark Central Otago wine, all plummy and earthy flavours, whereas Nicola’s was a light, bright Marlborough wine. For mains we switched to white, and Nicola reverted to form with a Camshorn sauvignon blanc, which has all the flavours you’d expect from a Marlborough SB. This accompanied her chicken and mushroom tortellini, where I had a slice of pork belly accompanied by a very earthy flavoured chardonnay from Dog Point.

We were out in plenty of time for a 7:00pm start at the Michael Fowler centre. On came Strassman, and introduced us first to Ted E Bare, then to a series of his other characters, including Chuck Wood, Sid Beaverman, Grandpa Fred, Kevin the alien, and Buttons the clown. He goes through various routines with these characters, which demonstrate the essential craft of being a ventriloquist. You see, at that distance, you can't really tell if his mouth is moving much at all, and to a certain extent, it's not that important. What he does well is bring the characters to life, and he is very funny. During the exposition, he tells each character that he's setting up for the second half of the show, which will be in the format of a TED talk...hence the show's name. The subject of the talk is the suspension of disbelief, which is obviously an integral part of his act.

In the second half of the act, he has all the characters lined up and controlled by animatronics. Whilst he has a control in his hand, there may also be some off-stage jiggery, and indeed pokery, to control all the movements of the characters on stage. Again, it was all very funny, as well as enlightening.

Now, here's a funny thing: I've read some reviews of Strassman's shows in Australia. Two of them mention that he used the wrong voice for the wrong character at one stage. And guess what? He did the same in the show we saw...then the dummy (I think it was Chuck) corrected him. Do you think, possibly, it's part of the act? Hmm?

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