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First Night: Speak no evil - that's Chuck's job

David Strassman Corn Exchange Cambridge
SIX WORDS hang over ventriloquism like a cloud: Roger de Courcey and Nookie Bear. This pair embody the sense of terminal cheesiness that has dogged the art of enjoying a preternaturally close relationship with some dummy.

The American David Strassman, however, aims to take ventriloquism somewhere altogether more hip. He even comes close to the unthinkable - giving it cred.

There is a definite frisson in watching Strassman and his main foil, Chuck, at work. As in the film Magic, the puppet acts as the ventriloquist's evil alter ego, behaving in an outrageous manner we would never dare emulate.

Chuck articulated as much on the first night of Strassman's national tour at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge yesterday, when he sneered: "You need me to say the things you ain't got the balls to say. No wonder you can't get laid." A man would get punched; a puppet gets laughs.

Chuck was in a spiteful mood, and most entertaining it was. Within minutes he was haranguing late-comers. "That's right, ruin it for everyone. Can I get you anything? Like a watch?" But that had nothing on the treatment of a man Chuck accused of stalking. Shrieking: "I think he's a woodcarver, he's got a chisel," the puppet warded him off by gobbing in his face.

More subtle were moments where Chuck heckled Strassman for stumbling on his lines: "Let's just grind the show to a halt, shall we?"

Chuck also displayed the classic symptons of "the Pinnocchio syndrome" - the desire to be a real boy. "I want to live on the dole," he cackled, "and pick up hookers."

Chuck is so foul-mouthed I couldn't recommend him to children. But this is a strikingly original night out, providing unusual insights into the mind of a performer.

James Rampton