Archive for Jeremy Stockwell

The Sunday Intertitle: Catchpole Burkington

Posted in FILM, Radio, Theatre with tags , , , , on August 26, 2018 by dcairns

We returned to the Pleasence Dome on Friday night to see Jeremy Stockwell as Spike Milligan in A Sockful of Custard, Terry Johnson, author of Ken, had told us that JS was “just as uncanny” in this role as he was as Ken Campbell in Ken. No exaggeration. Somehow, by some subtle constriction of the jaw muscles, he transforms “no particular physical resemblance” into “Oh look, it’s Spike.” And the voice, the laugh, everything.

The play is co-devised by Chris Larner, who co-stars as almost everybody else.

I’m making this a Sunday Intertitle purely in order to get the thing up a little before the show closes, so any Edinburghers reading can catch it in time. The intertitle is from the best bit of THE CASE OF THE MUKKINESE BATTLEHORN, a fairly inept attempt to transpose The Goon Show to the cinema screen. A little while later, THE RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL FILM would demonstrate that Milligan humour COULD work visually – but only if it was conceived visually. His scripts for the Goons made such imaginative use of the radio medium that to slap pictures on is to ruin most of the jokes and flatten the eerie, ludic, nonsensical world he created.

That’s why I like this scene, conceived as it is for the movie — when Catchpole Burkington, “famous star of the Silent films,” enters, the soundtrack is overtaken by melodramatic solo piano and everyone else loses the power of speech. They have to match his intertitles with hastily scribbled cards of their own.

When Burkington mistakenly tries to exit via a closet, it feels for a moment like the gag is too general, the kind of thing Clouseau might do, not specific to a silent tragedian — but then he exits the closet dressed in an Edwardian bathing suit and the piano accompaniment plays “Rule Britannia.” The only missed trick is to have normal sound return after he leaves.  That should have been good for a laughlet in itself.

When I first heard the Goons as a kid I found it all slightly disturbing (Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python cut-outs also scared me). The words and sounds conjured images — like a cartoon with the picture turned off — but the images couldn’t quite coalesce. “Climb through this photograph of a hole.” Your brain tripped over itself trying to assemble an illustration.

Some of the jokes would use sound to deliberately wrong-foot you: one character shouts increasingly loud instructions to his companion, painting the picture of increasing distance between them, and then hs friend speaks in a normal tone of voice and you realise he’s still standing right next to him. The shouting was just madness.

But other jokes went further into bizarre abstractions, things you just couldn’t create pictures for. “This is the BBC.” A POP and GLUGGING. “Oh no, the cork’s come out.” “Stop it, before the BBC flows away!”

The Goon Show, like the Hollywood cartoons which influenced it on some level, could seem like nightmares of brutality if unpicked too earnestly. Characters are regularly shot or blown up with dynamite. But they comment on their own deaths, making each episode a kind of playground ritual, a game which the characters enter into wholeheartedly, safe from real harm in their parodic, surreal dream-universe.

Returning to A Sockful of Custard — Jeremy Stockwell’s impersonation of Milligan as a child I found particularly moving, because you sensed the wellspring of all that mad creativity was right in front of you. And Milligan’s GLEE, which he retained an incredible capacity for in adulthood, suddenly made sense when you saw it played out as the explorations of that little boy growing up in India.

 

 

Beyond Our Ken

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2018 by dcairns

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.