The Chester Missing Roadshow

PLAY: The Chester Missing Roadshow

DIRECTOR: Heinrich Reisenhofer

CAST: Conrad Koch

VENUE: The Golden Arrow Studio at The Baxter Theatre

UNTIL: February 23



The only thing missing is the real Conrad Koch. South Africa’s most well-known ventriloquist, Conrad Koch, is loco. We know this because the opening of his latest show, The Chester Missing Roadshow, tells us so. He borrows that audio from Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Membrane where they say: “Don’t you know I’m loco?”

But we also know this because he consistently pushes himself to the limit by voicing not one but three (and sometimes more in other shows) puppets in an hour.

This means he fits in his hugely popular character and’s Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola star Chester Missing, a forever-randy ostrich named Hilary as well as a green monster-child, Ronnie, without seeming rushed.

Between segments that see the puppets engage with audiovisual material on a projector that doesn’t show the pictures in the highest definition, Koch (pictured) also engages with the audience. He sometimes gets the names of audience members wrong, but it is media night after all, so we can chalk that up to the nerves.

Understandably, Koch turns red in the face a few times, particularly when he has Chester standing next to him. But what’s a little bit weird to watch is how even when his hand isn’t attached to a puppet, Koch seems to fall into a safety mode of talking with a grin plastered on his face and restricts his lip movement when he speaks. This is one of the comfort zones that Koch finds hard to leave; another is that he lets the puppets do all the important talking.

Save for warning us that Hilary has a problem or that Ronnie is under medication or that Chester wants to fire him, he doesn’t really tell us how he feels. About anything. In this sense, Koch can hide behind a puppet’s opinions. He uses his puppets to give opinions on politics, Vodacom’s 3G, relationships and more, but it would be interesting to see an element of stand-up comedy where it’s just Koch and the audience.

But perhaps ventriloquism doesn’t leave a lot of room for that kind of comedy. This Roadshow does give plenty of laughs, though, especially in the one-liners delivered by the puppets. Like when Chester, appalled that they weren’t booked into a bigger venue, says: “This isn’t a theatre, it’s a Bantustan for the middle class”.

If you’ve never seen Koch on stage before, then you will probably thoroughly enjoy The Chester Missing Roadshow, but if you have, some of the material might sound familiar to you even though the songs played during the show – Memphis Bleek’s It’s Like That. Really?! – might seem an odd choice. You will also be impressed by the detail on the puppets, like Hilary’s eyes and the way Koch controls her body. Koch can tell us that he’s loco but for the most part, he’s good.