Sure ain't child's play

David Strassman's no dummy, writes James Rampton
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The Independent Culture
Ventriloquism used to be associated with creaky, end-of-the-pier entertainers engaging in cuddly banter with monocled dummies and fluffy bears - the last word in naff. But David Strassman has changed all that. He is a ventriloquist with "attitood" - think Ray Allen as directed by David Cronenberg. He has achieved what many considered impossible: he has made ventriloquism hip.

Strassman brings a sense of danger to those sitting in the front row previously felt only by people at a Dame Edna Everage show. But rather than having the contents of their handbags held up for public ridicule, audiences at a Strassman performance risk far worse; they are in danger of being drenched by amounts of gob and vomit not seen in the theatre since the heyday of the Sex Pistols.

The purveyor of this tide of filth is Chuck Wood, a deceptively cute- looking dummy with what he describes as a "Rikki Lake" hairdo. Swearing to an extent that would embarrass a trooper, he comes across as the bastard son of Gerry Sadowitz and the possessed toy from Child's Play. He maintains a torrent of abuse and bodily fluids that would have people storming out and demanding their money back if they issued from a human mouth.

Chuck suffers from what is known as "Pinocchio Syndrome" - the yearning to be "real" - and, in a dazzling coup de theatre at the end, he manages it. Dismissing Strassman with a curt "You're finished, asshole, I wanna travel and see St Albans", Chuck is left alone on stage. You could hear a pin drop as he waits 10 seconds before swivelling his eyes mischievously and receiving the rapturous applause he craved at the beginning. "Is he gone?" Chuck asks. "I've been waiting years for that jerk to leave. Feels great with no hand up my bum."

Chuck has a supporting cast of characters - a dim bear, a baby, a blue alien and a trio of animatronically controlled triceratops that sing and dance their way through "Bohemian Rhapsody". Having four dummies speaking on stage at the same time affords Strassman the opportunity to display his technical excellence, but it detracts from the snarling star of the show, Chuck. Strassman would do well to chuck out a lot of what isn't Chuck, who is an evil, original tour de force. Some advice to people going to see him: don't forget your sou'wester.

To 15 Feb, Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave, London W1 (0171-494 5070)

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