Ken at The Bunker Theatre, Southwark, London
‘He was a maverick, a clown, a genius’
This play is about Ken - Ken Campbell - the force of nature who passed away some ten years ago.
Written by the incredibly successful, versatile and witty Terry Johnson - it’s more of a lecture and eulogy to Ken, whom Terry first met in 1978. It’s how Ken took a rag-tag collection of talented people to perform a 24-hour-long play in Edinburgh and other extraordinary adventures. It’s about Ken’s magnificently bizarre and inspiring character. It’s about hope.
Ken is played by the tour de force that is Jeremy Stockwell with an impression that is quite unnervingly accurate. How do I know? Did I meet Ken Campbell? No. But I studied him because I had the pleasure of performing in his play Old King Cole in Glenrothes many years ago. I played Baron Wadd - the weediest man in the entire world - and that character description alone gives you some idea of his approach to all things. Subtlety very rarely gets a look-in.
Terry’s view is eye-opening. It’s honest, loving and funny. As he informed us: some of the story is true - mainly the more incredible parts.
The audience enter to find the auditorium decked out with chairs and sofas and cushions. We’re encouraged to recline and have our own flashback to the hazy 70s. This stunning, carpeted design is by Tim Shortall.
The buzz before the play even starts is positive and upbeat, even though many there weren’t even born in the 1970s. The play itself continues that atmosphere and, although it lasts ninety minutes without an interval, it certainly doesn't feel it. Director Lisa Spirling keeps the action flowing at a cracking pace and it only occasionally droops. There are references to things which the younger audience may need to ask about, but overall this is superb escapism from the dull real world, back into the fantastic brain and theatrical approach of Ken. He was a maverick, a clown, a genius. Terry Johnson is, in the simplest of ways, proving it.
Could the play be more touching and sentimental? Probably. Would Ken himself approve if it did? Maybe not. But I felt I wanted to touch a little more on the shadows of his darker side, not just the light. As he is quoted as saying: ‘funeral’ is an anagram of ‘real fun’.
Ken is the first in a series of four plays in The Bunker’s Spring Season. This one was first performed at the Hampstead Theatre and they are co-producers. The next three are: Electra by Sophocles, a new version produced by Dumbwise; Devil With The Blue Dress by Kevin Armento, produced by The Bunker; Grotty by Izzy Tennyson, produced by Damsel Productions. Check their website for further details. If Ken is anything to go by, the next three should all be brilliant.
Photography: Robert Day
Performances: until 24th February 2018
Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm - Saturday & Sunday at 3pm
Venue: The Bunker, 53a Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU
Nearest station: London Bridge
Tickets: www.bunkertheatre.com and 020 7234 0486
£19.50 (concessions £15) and U30s £10
Twitter: @BunkerTheatreUK, #Ken