Jay Johnson with Darwin
Where: West End
3 July 2008 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews At long last, the Arts Theatre has a hit on its hands. Or rather, it has what deserves to be a hit - a very good show. Jay Johnson, best known for his work on 1970s American sitcom Soap, is one of the few contemporary ventriloquists you might actually have heard of. And during the course of his Tony Award-winning show , he makes such a compelling case for the ‘art’ of ventriloquism (don’t dare call it a ‘craft’!), that I left wondering why there aren’t more like him. The Two and Only
is a kind of smorgasbord of history lesson, autobiographical reminiscence and perfectly crafted puppet comedy. Opening with a brief history of ventriloquism (it was once seen as a sign of demon-possession), Johnson soon moves into an account of how he received his own ‘calling’, and how he learned to throw his voice and avoid saying the letter ‘B’ at all costs. The Two and Only
As for his onstage companions, Johnson and his co-conceivers
Murphy Cross and Paul Kreppel have put together an outstanding 'cast', including a rejected tennis ball with eyes, an aggressive monkey named Darwin, a disembodied head and Johnson’s original partner, Squeaky. None of them hit a dud note, and in the hands of such a consummate professional, it doesn’t take long before they all reduce you to childish fits of giggles.
It’s in the story of the creation of Squeaky that the show finds its heart. Crafted by a retired ventriloquist who Johnson stumbled across in the phone book, Squeaky - as becomes patently obvious - was the first love of Johnson's life. And his encounter with Squeaky’s maker Arthur is one of the most well crafted and moving pieces of one-man storytelling I’ve seen. Arthur was the “only other ventriloquist” Johnson had met at that stage in his life, and he soon became his spiritual mentor.
Ventriloquism has almost become a parody of itself. Seen by many as a rather undignified way to earn a living, Johnson comes out fighting for the respect and recognition it deserves. Although the show is a little untidy in places (a few scene transitions could do with a polish), and perhaps ten minutes too long, these are minor complaints about what is essentially a hugely enjoyable evening in the company of a natural-born entertainer.
- Theo Bosanquet
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