Beyond Our Ken

To Terry Johnson’s play Ken at the Pleasance Dome, planned as our one Edinburgh Festival Fringe extravagance this year — but Jeremy Stockwell, the second man in this one-man show alongside its author, is also appearing as Spike Milligan in A Sock Full of Custard, and is apparently as uncanny in that role as he is as the shade of Ken Campbell.

I used to ONLY go to Fringe shows that had a Campbellian element, which was fine as there were often more than one on. This year, Campbell alumni Nina Conti and The Showstoppers are both playing. Often, Campbell would appear in one of his monologues and direct someone else. I first saw him in the never-revived Hail Eris!, chunks of which I can still quote by what I fondly imagine is heart. That one was about staging Illuminatus!, his epic science-fiction conspiracy saga. Ken deals mostly with its follow-up, the twenty-four-hour-long The Warp, by Neil Oram, whose own one-man show followed Hail Eris! back in, I think it was 1989.

I had fancied making the trip down south to see Ken, but I should’ve known it would come to Edinburgh – The Warp was performed in Edinburgh, at the defunct Regal Cinema. I would have been nine — rather too young for a 24-hr sex and drugs play. I regret missing it, though.

The theatre space has chairs and tables and bean bags and cushions. I immediately threw myself on the floor, Fiona opting to loom over me from a chair. Johnson takes to the podium, and Ken Campbell’s voice issued from behind me. I figured they had a recording of him saying his name. As the play continued and “Ken” said more lines, I realised they were issuing from a bloke directly behind me. I sort of figured I shouldn’t look at him, though, as Johnson was the star of the play. But “Ken” – in reality the brilliant Jeremy Stockwell, moved around the venue, just as actors in The Warp would, interacting with the audience, so it became impossible to ignore him. Stockwell looks different from Campbell: everyone does, unless they are a church gargoyle sprung to life. But the voice and the stare were so uncanny, you couldn’t help feel Campbell was in there, animating him.

The stories and capers and the elastic-band-and-housebrick skit are excellent, and there’s an emotional clout too. It’s all an amazing feat, not of homage, but of resurrection — the spirit of a genius captured and brought to life for a short spell.

Campbell, we are told, once gave Stockwell a hat identical to the one he himself wore. “Here you are. I think you might need this one day.”

Terry Johnson also wrote INSIGNIFICANCE, filmed by Nic Roeg, so there’s your movie connection.


9 Responses to “Beyond Our Ken”

  1. This sounds wonderful. I was just thinking about that Neil Oram thing the other day, I was trying to explain it to someone else and frankly failing. Oran has merged with Alan Moore in my memory now, they are inseparable. I’m so glad that Ken Campbell still exists in the world, whoever he’s inhabiting.

  2. Highly recommend Stockwell’s Sockful as well. His corpsing as Milligan is, well, exquisite. One of the things that made his Ken impression so uncanny though, I realised while watching, is that Campbell also presented an impersonation of himself. Kenneth Williams is similarly happily imitable.

  3. “NEVER throw away a LINE!” Campbell was playing himself, yes, and playing him to the hilt.

    In one of his last monologues, Campbell wished for the return of the dead people he’d known, and also for the return of Oram, who is still alive. “I want him back the way he was.”

    I didn’t recognize Oram from Stockwell’s impression of him, but then I only saw him once and yes, he was very Alan Moore. But wilder, stranger. Even Alan Moore never wrote a 24-hr play.

  4. Probably time to stage Jerusalem (although I’d rather see American Gothic). Oram turns up 5:30 in here – some lovely Broadbent too – (Wasn’t it Johnson who played Oram in Ken?)

  5. And Ken can be seen trying to forge Bob Hoskins into the new Grimaldi here:

  6. Yes! Juvenile Broadbent and Nighy!

    You’re right, Oram was one of the characters Johnson played. I mentally rewrote it so he was always himself, for some reason.

    Am annoyed I missed Daisy Campbell’s revival of The Warp. She needs to do it in Edinburgh! The Regal is no longer standing but there’s always the old Odeon…

  7. well done for actually managing to see something at the (currently being called the Edinburgh Comedy Festival by the BBC) I’ve seen NOTHING this year…. apart from one art opening at Summerhall

  8. weird the word Fringe disappeared out of that comment..

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