Mad Friday

I saw Ken Campbell‘s TV play The Madness Museum when I was nineteen or so, and it stuck with me. Years later I met Campbell and even collaborated with him in a small way, but only this year did I manage to find a copy of the show.

A fictionalized look at historical treatment of the insane, it features a fervid perf by Campbell himself as the Rev. Dr. Skipton, asylum proprietor with many revolutionary ideas, and young John Sessions (a Campbell protege) as his new assistant, Dr. Arthur Uwins.

In this scene, Skipton’s water therapy/torture is deployed on Simon Callow, a very un-Campbellian actor, one might have thought — but in fact, Callow seems to fit right in, along with David Rappaport from TIME BANDITS and several other members of the Campbell stock company.

Rappaport was a primary school teacher when he answered an ad placed by Campbell to recruit actors and crew for The Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool’s production of Illuminatus! — based on the giant three-volume SF satire by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. By chance, the book features a dwarf, Markoff Chaney (a guerilla ontologist fighting a lonely war against the concept of the average) and Campbell had been wondering how to cast the part.

(Rappaport on teaching — “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to look a child right in the eyes.”)

Years later, after an unsuccessful US TV show, Rappaport committed suicide. He’d always been a very upbeat figure in interviews, but didn’t hide the sadness underneath the sunny exterior. “How did you first find out -?” was one interviewers question. “I was a kid, and I noticed that the other kids were all getting new clothes all the time, and I asked my mum, ‘How come I don’t ever get any new clothes?’ And she said, ‘Because you’re not going to get any bloody bigger.'”

Rappaport could tell this story in such a way that it provoked a huge laugh, followed by the shocked sound of an audience trying to withdraw the explosive laugh back into their mouths and shamefully swallow it.

Using an arrangement of mirrors, Campbell presents an early rendition of his enantiodromic approach to acting.

6 Responses to “Mad Friday”

  1. Magnificently NOT off-topic, since Ken plays Gonzalo in Jarman’s The Tempest (cementing its fringe-theatre credentials)!

  2. Jarman and Ken Campbell also worked on a video project on the work of Edward Lear, if I remember correctly, but it came to nought.

    Here’s a recording of Campbell interviewing Jarman

    Both truly interesting men, Ken discovered so many actors and was such an eccentric talent that he’s a must for any game of six degrees.

    Where on earth did you find this though? I found Unfair Exchanges (with Julie Walters) through certain channels, but I’d given up searching for this one. If it’s one of* those* sites, could you email me?

  3. Got this from a chap on the “Ken Campbell Changed My Life” Facebook page, which I recommend. I’ll email you to see about doing a swap for Unfair Exchanges.

    Really enjoyed the Jarman talk. Fun hearing him mispronounce “correlations” as “coriolations” — gives it a Shakespearian quality.

  4. to d cairns – is ken campbell’s production of The Madness Museum available in any format
    Was this something that Bob Monkhouse recorded in his massive collection do you know?- if so how can I access it
    Thanks in anticipation, William Woods

  5. I don’t know if Monkhouse grabbed it, although I would hope so.

    The only way to obtain the show at present is the way I did — by paying a small sum to somebody who’s lucky enough to have it. Someone like — me, I guess.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: