Puppet Fisters or whatever the y'oice-throvvers’ union is called. Strassman is about as far from the old school. ‘gottle of geer' turkey in a tux as it's possible to get. Where previous generations had inoffensive dummies like Basil Brush. Lord Charles and those yvishy-yvashy liberals Sooty and Syveep. Strassman's alter ego is Chuck Wood. three feet of foul-mouthed. red-eyed evil. Chuck is like a malevolent Tourette‘s sufferer blessed with a slicing vvit. When Emu attacked his guests they had their hair ruffled: if Chuck attacked his guests he‘d cut their ears off and wear them as trophies. He‘s Pinocchio with General Pinochet's taste for torture.
Strassman's interest in ventriloquism started at school. when a teacher introduced him to the art. But as Strassman vvryly points out. 'the real turning point was he taught me hovv to advertise in the local papers for
children's birthday parties and — at a very young age — I started making money out of it. That's where the interest really picked up.‘ More than twenty years later. Strassman is still making money out of his dummy and has turned a hobby into a highly successful career. In Australia he plays to 2()()() capacity venues: his sell-out 1996 Edinburgh Fringe shovv vvon him critical plaudits; his return visit to Edinburgh is preceded by vveek-long runs in Dublin and London: and the [TV netvvork is due to broadcast a Strassman special in June. Before Strassman. ventriloquism was the least cool thing that anyone could do on a stage: it was the crochet class of the entertainment world. ‘What makes my shovv different is that most ventriloquists are very
'My puppets have hopes and fears and dreams and neuroses. When you watch the show you forget it’s a ventriloquist act.’ David Strassman
presentational.‘ explains Strassman. 'They shovv off their art—form. they sing silly songs. I‘ve given my puppets the depth and
parameters that you vvould find in an actor or
character in a play. They have hopes and fears and dreams and neuroses — and when you yvatch the shovv you forget it's a ventriloquist act.‘
The other stand-out aspect of Strassman‘s
act is its nifty animatronics technology: Chuck can stand on his ovvn two feet. vyalk and talk independently of Strassman. This radical departure from the yentriloquist’s craft resulted from a crisis of faith on Strassman’s part. '.-\bout ten years ago.‘ he recalls. ‘I got really bored yvith my art-form and I woke up and said. "Oh God. I'm a ventriloquist. I‘d better shoot myself in the head". So I quit. Then about a year later I figured out vvith a friend how to put the stuff into Chuck to make him work on his oyvn.’
The results are as eerie as they are dramatic. ()r. as Strassman has it. ‘the first time Chuck came to life. the audience gassed in their seats.’
Whether you actually want to go as far as
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to gas in your seat or not. it's well vvorth going to see Strassman dragging ventriloquism kicking and screaming into the let century. You won't regret it. L'nless of course Chuck picks on you.
David Strassman is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Tuesday 12—Friday 15 May. For ticket offer, see inside front cover.
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