He has been hailed as “the Jeff Dunham of South Africa”; the only local ventriloquist of international stature. Conrad Koch and his famous puppet, Chester Missing, have been on the scene for many years, but before continuing with this review I must admit something: I have never been a big fan of this dynamic duo. Admittedly, I have only seen glimpses of them on television news and thought it was not quite up to the standard of Jeff Dunham.
But after watching Puppet Guy at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, I can unequivocally say Koch has won me over. Not only is he a match for Dunham; he contextualises his show more than Dunham, making him more relevant, entertaining and captivating than the internationally acclaimed ventriloquist.
The political commentary of Chester Missing is sharp and to the point. No topic is off bounds. He tackles topics ranging from Jacob Zuma to Julius Malema, from white privilege to land redistribution, and from Patricia de Lille to Helen Zille (who was in the audience). He’s not afraid to tell it like it is and doesn’t wrap issues in a blanket of comfort.
But Koch is much more than just Chester Missing – something I never realised before seeing him live. He is immensely talented and innovative, creating puppets out of cleaning products, involving audience members in the show and even using a hoodie and his feet to bring the enigmatic “DJ Puppet” to life. His creativity, even more than his sense of humour, has left a lasting impression.
Koch connects with his audience. We felt part of the experience and could relate to the job of a ventriloquist. This self-awareness created empathy and broke the child-like illusion of the puppet speaking.
Having said that, there must still be exceptional skill involved, otherwise it’s just a guy on stage talking to inanimate objects. This is perhaps an area Koch can improve on. His skill in not seeing that it is he who is speaking, needs some fine-tuning, especially when there is more than once voice on stage. The movements of his puppets, however, are quite superb and life-like. It acts as a mirror for human behaviour and kept us engaged for the 60+ min performance.
I am always thrilled when I am proven wrong about a performer. Koch has shattered my perception of him as an imitation of Jeff Dunham. In fact, I think Dunham can learn a thing or two from this master ventriloquist.
The show is on at the Baxter Theatre until the 14th of April 2018 and then moves to Johannesburg.
For more details of the Johannesbrug show, click on this link: http://www.bsharpentertainment.co.za/puppet-guy/