Though many dismiss ventriloquism as a gimmick, the great strength of the art is in transforming a solo performer into an apparent double act.
Young ventriloquist Lachlan Werner demonstrated its magic as he gave life to his puppet, Brew the Witch, in Fringe show What A Doll!.
The show revolves around Werner and Brew – a small, green witch clad in a fabulous pink feather boa who communicates in raucous shrieks – filming a pilot for their daytime BBC show, Tea and Biccies with Brew.
The scheduling of Werner’s Caxton Arms show led to a foreseeably small crowd, placed as it was in a difficult early Wednesday evening slot.
Those few who attended were a little subdued, though they all seemed to be willing Werner to succeed.
Werner is more vaudevillian than a conventional stand-up.
Rather than performing straightforward observational comedy, he capered round the stage and sang a number of songs that would not have been out of place in the Victorian music hall.
There was a sweetness and an innocence to What A Doll!, enhanced by Werner’s obvious youth, so it was a shock the few times he swore or introduced some darker, more unsettling material.
One particular routine about a woman’s struggles with her abusive partner seemed incongruous in a show of such lightness.
Werner studied for a year under the tutelage of legendary theatre professor, Philippe Gaulier, at the septuagenarian clown’s École Philippe Gaulier, in Étampes, Paris.
At just 19, Werner is one of his youngest-ever students.
Gaulier’s methodology is based around a concept he terms ‘le Jeu’, or the idea of acting as a state of play – a way of reconnecting with the actor’s inner child.
Elements of the absurd are cultivated to transform the performer into a figure of ridicule.
Nowhere was this more obvious in Werner’s set than when he was forced by Brew to remove his trousers, and he completed the show wearing only his boxers.
For all that the show was a little rough around the ages, Werner is clearly a more than proficient ventriloquist.
Perhaps the show’s greatest strength was in convincing the audience that a relationship built on genuine warmth existed between Werner and his puppet, a creature who due to the artist’s skill seemed utterly alive.