MYSTERY BRUISES
Almeida Theatre, London N1
Opened 20 June, 1994

Before the evening's delights began, I had scribbled down an observation to the effect that Ken Campbell is "the first quantum stage performer": like a misbehaving photon, he is somehow able to go off in two separate directions at once. In the kind of odd coincidence generated by Britain's premier theatrical fruitcake, 90 minutes later he indeed embarked on an explanation of quantum mechanics.  Of course, in order to reach that point he'd had first to touch on thought-influencing machines, talking dogs, sculpture using polyurethane spray foam and an essay on why all the other characters in Macbeth are so intent on ignoring the Thane of Angus. Yes, Ken Campbell is back.

Rummaging in his shopping trolley for props and cue notes, pulling passages out of weird reference books and tying sheepshanks in the slim thread of logic that runs through his discourses, Campbell has created another anarchic, often illuminating and constantly mesmeric show out of the narrative equivalent of the insides of two toilet rolls and some sticky-backed plastic. Mystery Bruises is less portentous than his trilogy Furtive Nudist, Pigspurt! and Jamais Vu he's not building up to a great cod-divine revelation this time. The structure, however, is the same: a bunch of anecdotes and digressions which somehow are drawn together in the final ten minutes.

Campbell himself seems more at ease, and certainly more animated, on this outing. The "spanking squire" aspect of his face is given full rein, and he throws some astounding bodily shapes. He resembles an affable gargoyle the kind of demented statuary with which you could imagine spending a night on the tiles, so to speak. He has a curious habit, just before launching into a rocket-fuelled ramble, of cupping his hands over his ears as if tuning into a series of bizarre alien transmissions which prompt his geyser spurts of strangeness.

The numerous pellets of surrealism begin to converge like a blast from a blunderbuss filmed in reverse somewhere in the postal district of quantum theory. Remarkably, this most abstruse and uncertain field of physics makes perfect sense in a Campbellian context, perhaps because rather than simply discussing it he seems permanently to be living it out.

Ken Campbell is a Grade II Listed Nutter, a Site of Special Theatrical Interest with a theme park built in his grounds. He should be cherished, and visited often.

Written for the London Evening Standard.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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