Ken by Terry Johnson
The Bunker, short walk from London Bridge stations To 24th February
90 Minutes with no interval
Veronica Stein, January 30th, 2018.
Recreating the un-recreatable
Theatre as an entity in Britain has made leaps and bounds away from homogeneity. If one man is perhaps responsible, it’s Ken Campbell, the quizzical director and storyteller responsible for his roadshow, the 24 hour production of The Warp, a production of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in which the entire audience sat on a hoverboard, and many other forays into experimental theatre. As KEN makes clear, though, Campbell never lost his joie de vivre, or his sense of humour. Opening the Bunker’s first season of 2018, Terry Johnson’s KEN -in conjunction with Hampstead Theatre- explores the playwright’s first foray into his career and what part Ken Campbell played in it.
One of the many successes of KEN is it’s design. Tim Shortall doesn’t stop at the playing space and creates an utterly transportative atmosphere throughout the whole theatre. Along with an eclectic mix of tapestries, lighting fixtures, beaded cushions, and textured armchairs, plush orange fabric is visible no matter where you look in a hue that seems to specifically scream ‘1978’.
Stockwell’s performance as Campbell and several others is a true showcase of his range, both with accents and character. His versatility is mesmerizing- he romps around the theatre with aplomb and flexibility. Some of the finest moments of the performance went off-script. As for the script itself, it is to Johnson’s credit along with Stockwell’s performance that we feel we know Ken long before the piece is over. Johnson’s performance is of a discursive nature. Standing for most of KEN at his lectern, we often feel we’re privy to a special dramatization of his memoir. This somewhat didactic delivery doesn’t withhold Johnson from digging deep within his memories for the basis of his current personage, however, for in some ways this seeming informality allows for moments of gravitas with little pretense- and his text is exquisite.
Sir Peter Hall wrote that Campbell was “an anarchist…He more or less said it was a crime to be serious”. KEN at the Bunker carries on his legacy through brilliant performances and spirited audience interaction that pays tribute without canonizing. What Ken Campbell gave Johnson is invaluable, and the namesake play Johnson gives back is often priceless too. KEN is an absolute delight.
Starring Terry Johnson and Jeremy Stockwell
Director: Lisa Spirling
Designer: Tim Shortall