Ken (3 stars)

This article is from 2018


credit: courtesy of Robert Day

A conventional primer of a maverick seeker

Ten years after his death, Ken Campbell is yet to receive the respect that he deserves as a subversive presence in British theatre: his Warp, a twenty-four Fringe extravaganza embraced the possibilities of psychedelic theatre; his Fortean interests matched an enthusiasm for weird science with his challenging performance styles; his prank on the Royal Shakespeare Company led to a public face-off with the then artistic director Trevor Nunn. And, of course, he has inspired many artists to take a road less travelled which, in the case of Nina Conti, led to international success.

Terry Johnson, writer and performer of Ken, describes selected episodes from Campbell's adventures, but the lecture format, even disrupted by Jeremy Stockwell's uncanny impersonation, fails to do justice to Campbell's radical antics. Reducing his productions to a combination of hippy happenings and eccentric ambitions, the script never imitates the provocation and tension that made Campbell so fascinating. Johnson lands on those events in which he played a part, but leaves Campbell looking like a fairly generic trickster (the ground-breaking nudity business always seems to major on female flesh) who tried and failed to shake up a moribund theatre business. The lack of risk in the performance, which operates as a eulogy, never convinces that Campbell mattered.

There are moments of brilliance – Campbell's funeral is described in poetic and playful terms, a rare sequence in which Johnson shows his writing skills – but the testaments to the man and the work are merely proposals rather than arguments for Campbell's unique importance. Stockwell does embody his pixie-like charm but the anarchic spirit is chained by language in what feels more like a memorial or primer than an effort to revive Campbell's much needed sense of limitless abandon and theatrical imagination.

Pleasance Dome, until 27 Aug, 3.20pm, £14.50 (£13.50).


  • 3 stars

Terry Johnson's successful play returns to Edinburgh to pay tribute to Ken Campbell ten years after his death.