This warm-hearted tribute to Ken Campbell offers a good dose of nostalgia for those who remember his work – but can feel slightly self-indulgent towards the end.
There is no denying that this lively play by Terry Johnson successfully captures Ken Campbell’s quirky character and determination to create a new and exciting form of theatre. But while it is warmly affectionate – it does tend to steer into self-indulgence on the author’s part (who also stars in the production) which can lessen the impact of the tribute as a whole by the end.
However, Lisa Spirling’s production is cosy and effective in the way in which it uses the space as well as the audience to really get to the heart of the contrasting sides of the friendship between Ken and the writer whose life unexpectedly changes when answering the phone on day in 1978.
Set in a cosy 1970’s style set, Terry Johnson’s play essentially weaves a number of stories together that convey Ken’s own unique sense of style and attitude towards theatre and life in general that provides plenty of laughs for the audience but can be bewildering to keep up with. Stories such as the time when Ken plotted to change the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Royal Dickensian Company, really showcase his determination to go his own way and do things differently.
But the main trouble with the play is its consistency in its style. One minute the audience can be listening to the writer reminiscing about events in the past to then be thrown into a rehearsal setting for one of Ken’s theatrical attempts which although amusing is conflicting two different approaches to the story that can be disorientating.
This is not helped by Terry Johnson’s delivery in front of the podium, which sounds more like an elegy at times and the fact he looks down so often at the pages in front of him (difficult to tell if he is just reading the part or as though just looking at notes as if delivering a speech) gives the audience little sense as to the writer’s true feelings towards Ken. It can come across as too neutral in places – even when speaking of Ken’s funeral. The most endearing moments in his performance come when he allows himself to relax slightly.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Stockwell as Ken is suitably lively, eccentric and entertaining. His mannerisms whether its a slight twitch of an eyebrow or the way he stares down at the audience generate a genuine reaction from the audience that shows how engaged they are with the sheer bonkers nature of what is happening in front of them.
It is a lively and entertaining production overall, but at times it does veer into self indulgence by Terry Johnson who doesn’t seem to know exactly what he wanted to say about Ken and the legacy he left behind.
Ken continues to play at the Bunker Theatre until the 24th February. For more information and to book tickets visit: https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/ken/about