Voices Of Evil

Lachlan Werner
Ebdon Management
The Old Joint Stock Theatre

Brew The Witch and Lachy (Lachlan Werner) Credit: Mattia Sedda

Worcester-based ventriloquist Lachlan Werner brings his 2023 Edinburgh Fringe hit Voices Of Evil to Birmingham in the middle of a UK tour.

You don’t see a lot of ventriloquists these days. Nina Conti does it brilliantly, but she’s pretty much out there on her own. Ventriloquism is difficult to do well, and the traditional ventriloquists’ dummies were creepy and weird.

The conventional form of a vent act is for the ventriloquist to be the straight feed and dummy is the unruly clown who says the unsayable and disrupts everything. The dummy who takes over is the stuff of horror, from Death Of Night in 1945 through to Magic (1978) and the Saw franchise. Voices Of Evil takes bits of both; Werner’s dummy, a witch called Brew, is in charge and Lachlan—Brew calls him Lachy (lackey) in the show—is her mute and terrified stooge.

The set is decorated with cobwebs, an ancient book, a gargoyle and assorted Halloween paraphernalia. Brew and Lachy enter to thunder and lightning and spooky horror movie church music. Brew tells us this is Magic Night, and she will sacrifice a virgin to raise a demon from hell. Lachy, dressed in a choirboy’s cassock, surplice and ruff, is horrified to discover that the intended sacrificial victim is him.

The ceremony will need some props, though, so Brew asks the audience what we have brought with us. On the night I saw it, Tristan offered his hat, Sam had a bag of sweets she was willing to share and John had a used hankie. As luck would have it, those are exactly the things you need to make the magic work. After a solemn incantation of the Macarena, a demon turns up and possesses Lachy, who discovers that demonic possession isn’t such a bad thing after all, and Brew’s timid servant turns into a sex god.

The stage dynamic between the confident, assertive Brew and her terrified servant is beautifully done. There are some clever, metatheatrical jokes around the conventions of ventriloquism. Brew encourages Lachy to eat one of Sam’s sweets, knowing that he won’t be able to speak if he does. At one point, Brew tries to teach Lachy how to be a ventriloquist and make a wooden spoon speak. Lachy is, predictably, hopeless at it. John initially introduces himself as Big John, which Brew confesses she finds difficult to say, so she shortens it to John. Another audience member, Becca, presents a similar problem.

Werner is a terrific stage performer who takes a genuine delight in the audience interaction. He establishes within the first few minutes that yes, he can speak in Brew’s voice without moving his lips, and from then on, you are simply watching two characters on stage. Werner trained at Ecole Philippe Gaulier, and Lachy’s low status clown, with white-face make-up and elastic movement, the invitation to play and complicity with the audience, are all classic elements of clown.

The show is more than just a comedy act, though. As Werner explains in a 2022 article, ventriloquism isn’t the act of putting words into someone else’s mouth, it’s giving yourself permission to say the things you want to say but are afraid to. It "involves some element of liberty in self-expression—often expression of the sexual self—through an act of disguise." For a queer performer, ventriloquism is liberating and empowering, and the show has a positive, affirmative message for its audience.

This is a clever, thoughtful and brilliantly executed show, beautifully directed by Laurie Luxe. It is nearing the end of its tour with only Leeds and Manchester still to come, but it is well worth catching if you can.

Reviewer: Andrew Cowie

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