At the beginning of his tenure as artistic director of the Royal National Theatre, Trevor Nunn plays host to the man who plagued him nearly 20 years ago by perpetrating a magnificently detailed hoax claiming that the RSC, in the wake of Nicholas Nickleby, was about to become the Royal Dickens Company. Yes, Ken Campbell is back.
Campbell's thought processes are the psychological equivalent of a Gaudí cathedral: they are implausibly ornate and twiddle off in all sorts of peculiar directions, but the cumulative effect is wondrous. Theatre Stories is partly a compilation of highlights from his previous solo shows. Thus, as well as the full story of all those "...love, Trev" Dickens letters, we get the saga (first heard in Mystery Bruises) of his mantra-laden audition at Watford and his essay upon the importance of Angus in Macbeth, which is the greatest piece of close-reading criticism I have come across in years – "Why do they all ignore him? Has he committed some horrendous social gaffe?"
The second half also contains the story from Pigspurt! of the man who, as a result of a dream-vision (Campbell's, naturally, rather than one of his own), ended up touring the Pacific islands of Vanuatu translating the material of Ken Dodd into Pidgin. (Examples are thoughtfully provided.) Campbell continues to be fascinated with that language, and proceeds to tie the evening's threads together by proposing a Pidgin production of Macbeth; he even treats us to a couple of chunks, including a glorious rendering of Lady M's "Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here" as "Seten, tekem mi hambag".
Theatre Stories is the perfect deep-end introduction to the bonkers joys of Ken Campbell, wild yet charming enough to set even "Trev" sniggering at his own past discomfiture.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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