Strassman @ Pleasance Theatre, London

When I was younger I fell in love with Kermit from The Muppets which is why I went to see American voice thrower and puppeteer Strassman and his cadre of marionettes on Valentine’s Day at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington.

Spitting Image proved that when done well, puppets can do satire and social commentary and be just as entertaining as the Have I got News For You panel, normally because there was a ruddy good writer pulling the strings.

Thing is about David Strassman is that he is more rudderless than ruddy good. The humour is hackneyed and his gamut of puppets is pretty unoriginal: the sex-starved female android, Angel; the Al Garnett-esque Grandpa Bear; the dozy Ted E Bear and a bug-eyed alien called Kevin. The best, in terms of rapport and relationship, is Chuck Wood, a malevolent little Pinocchio if ever there was one.

Besides the intriguing on-stage repartee with Chuck, the material is miss-able pap, replete with nob gags, pokes at Dubya, a take off of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and a whole segment from the demented Grandpa Bear dedicated to the stand-up’s perennial favourite trick of picking on the same poor fool in the front row and asking the audience “So do we have anyone in tonight from France/Germany/India?” It felt like the show at the end of the pier that time forgot. There just wasn’t enough top quality comedy in this to showcase and my enthusiasm had started to wane even before the interval.

However in his pieces with Chuck Wood, the most developed of his characters, you could see glimmers of an act that could well be brilliant, if only this one of Strassman’s multiple personalities was allowed to run riot. It would doubtless be a more sinister show, but at least it would have teeth. Chuck is the creepy leader of the puppet pack, and belongs in his own Stephen King horror flick. He claims to be having an affair with another ventriloquist. He is bitter, resentful and supercilious and menaces the audience. But he is brilliant and not as clichd or stale as the other characters.

Light relief from puppets came when two volunteers were dragged on stage to become human dummies. This was vaguely amusing as they sat there cringing behind their plastic masks as Strassman jiggled their mouths up and down. A finale featuring electronic dinosaur puppets and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was also funny in a kind of hackneyed way.

This kind of comedic style of ventriloquism began in the days of Vaudeville in the late 19th century. The vaudeville acts did not concentrate on humour as much as on demonstrating the ventriloquist’s ability to deceive the audience and throw their voice. Strassman’s technical skill in switching voices is his forte. Able to breathe life into six very different puppets, he has this part of the show locked down; now he needs to work on upping the humour.

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