KEN CAMPBELL: THE GREAT CAPER. Nick Hern Books

Ken Campbell: The Great Caper
Michael Coveney
Nick Hern Books
Pub: 2011
ISBN: 9 781848 420762
Recommended Price: 14.99

Review: Rod Dungate

A great read about a unique man

There are a handful of amazing characters in theatre who have the ability to offer you something unique. I’m tempted to say ‘were’ because I’m not sure if there are any more around . . . But that’s not the point; the point is that Ken Campbell was most certainly one of them.

He was theatre through and through. A dynamic tension between hating naturalism but hating lack of truth too, he had gargantuan visions of what would work, what would inspire and what would entertain.

It’s not surprising that some of his work (OLD KING COLE, for instance) was for children. Children are naturally anarchic, or at least have a natural affinity with anarchism. So too did Campbell, whether it was in his relationships with work or with people.

Michael Coveney, who followed Campbell’s career from its early days, opens up the book of Campbell’s life in great detail. In doing so we are enabled to see, within the chaos, a journey. And Coveney leaves us in no doubt that Campbell’s journey was underpinned with passion. What set Campbell aside from the mainstream, was that his passion wasn’t for a theatre as most of us know it, but for a theatre built in his own image. A generous self-centredness (how childlike) made Campbell and his work what it was – and thank goodness for that.

Coveney unwraps the great body of work in all its wonder. The journey starts with a RADA training – let’s not forget that Campbell appeared in serious drama on television as well as sitcom. Then through the years of the Road Show, in which, with close friends like David Hill and Bob Hoskins, Campbell honed his iconoclastic style and explored his habit of eclectic reading.

Then, the great years. ILLUMINATUS, the nine hour epic, edited down for the Cottesloe opening, though we still took our hampers (I know, I saw it.) THE WARP, a cycle of ten plays – David Hare, David Edgar, eat yer hearts out.

Campbell completed his life with a body of solo performances; in which is wit and energy never faltered.

Coveney clearly loved this performer, and rightly so. His book is a reminder for us who were able to witness him. And for those too young or who didn’t dare . . . well, note what you’ve missed – and we can all learn.

Nothing would sum his life up better than something Campbell said to Peter Hall, the sober, grand-homme of UK theatre. Campbell told him: ‘My whole approach is based on misbehaviour, that’s true, and on the assumption that everyone who tells us things is wrong.’

Good on you, Mr C (and Mr C).

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon.

2011-06-05 20:23:38

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