The untimely passing of theatrical seeker Ken Campbell a decade ago left a huge hole in what used to be called alternative theatre. That space is slowly but surely being poked around by a new generation of onstage anarchists who have been infiltrated by Campbell’s madcap spirit. Playwright Terry Johnson fell under Campbell’s influence several decades ago while working with the creator of an eleven-hour staging of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s hippy sci-fi conspiracy epic, Illuminatus!, as a young actor.
Ken is Johnson’s new homage to Campbell, and is produced by Hampstead Theatre alongside improv troupe and one-time Campbell charges The Showstoppers to mark the tenth anniversary of Campbell’s death. The show also sees Johnson return to performing onstage for the first time in many years in what he calls an ‘interrupted monologue’. The interruptions in Johnson’s dramatic reminiscence of a man who has had a huge influence on popular culture come from a very familiar looking figure played with uncanny accuracy by Jeremy Stockwell.
Campbell entered the young Johnson’s life by way of a phone call meant for the person who used to occupy the young would-be playwright’s room. What follows is a life-changing friendship that saw Johnson become a co-conspirator of Campbell’s as he embarked on a series of what he called capers. As well as Illuminatus!, Campbell’s assorted adventures included touring with The Ken Campbell Roadshow, directing Neil Oram’s 24-hour epic, The Warp and a series of monologues he called The Bald Trilogy.
Campbell was not only a big influence on Johnson. He also inspired everyone from Nina Conti to Bill Drummond to follow their own individual paths. Together, Johnson and Stockwell reveal a free-wheeling genius in all his grumpy and unhinged glory with a theatrical exuberance and a pop-eyed irreverence that make more self-consciously serious dramatic musings appear dull. As one might expect, this becomes quite a caper
Ken, Pleasance until August 27, 3.20pm
The Herald, August 18th 2018