In the spirit of these slimmed-down times, let's keep the new year's resolutions simple this year. Mine is short and relatively unambitious: at long last, to see a ventriloquist's act.
It's amazing that I've got so far through my performance-haunting career without seeing someone throwing their voice or appearing to talk through the dummy on their knee. Ventriloquists were a staple of children's tv in my childhood, despite the potential for technical fakery (though it's perhaps telling that the most brilliantly anarchic flesh-and-fabric double act involved the apparently hapless Rod Hull and his silent but unmannerly Emu, the curl of whose beak presaged a savage atrocity committed on someone's dignity, while Hull maintained the air of an apologetic shamble as the bird attacked).
I've been thinking about vents after reading By George, a darn gripping novel by Wesley Stace. There are two Georges, one a boy, one an eerily plausible schoolboy dummy. How they are linked is the plot of the book, but its fascination is in the idea of ventriloquism itself. Finding a voice, losing an identity, deflecting attention - it's a brilliant device for building a character. The human George negotiates his fraught passage through adolescence; the dummy belongs to the son of an indomitable and celebrated performer, and for both of them the question of who speaks, who listens, who cares, is particularly vexed.
The ventriloquist is the controlling, shadowy presence of his or her act, but of course no one remembers the human being, a sidekick to their own weirdly animated prop. It's a brilliant idea - so why have I never gone to see for myself? In part, it's what seems the degraded nature of modern ventriloquism - the dummy as a pretext for foul-mouthed backchat and audience-baiting (these, I can do for myself). But it's time that I gave myself over to the pleasures of the uncanny: I'll give it a go and report back.
What theatrical resolutions do you have this year? What genre or artist might you try for the very first time? I'd love to know.
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