Brighton Fringe 2018
Dr David Bramwell’s Odditorium curates in the Spiegeltent’s Daisy Campbell’s range of a great theatre maker’s memorabilia, including a fat suit, posters, photographs, a fishing jacket full of things like golf balls and false teeth, with a penis nose and mirror designed to cheer its owner up. A sound system with the narrator miked up furnish the only props bar a set of cards. At one point anti-band KLF crash out of speakers.
Too much i’ the daughter? An invoking and a dismissal? For years through a complex web of the Mycelium, that well-known web of mushroom under-roots that govern the breathing earth, there’s this rectal trick. And where will that end if you’re not anally retentive? What has Dr David Bramwell’s Odditorium curated?
The Spiegeltent’s replete with a range of a great theatre maker’s memorabilia, including a fat suit, posters, photographs, a fishing jacket full of patina’d things like golf balls and false teeth, with a penis nose and mirror designed to cheer its owner up. A sound system with the narrator miked up furnish the only props bar a set of cards. At one point anti-band KLF crash out of speakers. But mostly it’s straight narrative and a flurry of quick-change on about four occasions.
Ten years on a daughter re-invents what was said in the Guardian obituary, 2008. ‘Ken Campbell was one of the most original and unclassifiable talents in British theatre of the past half-century.’ It just happens that his daughter Daisy is both that and far more. She’s one of the most cunning crafters of comedy and storytelling in the anti-business: her seeming ad-hoc assemblage of her father’s disjecta membra is anything but.
Having grown up watching Ken’s one-man shows (cheaper than a babysitter), Daisy’s now marking the anniversary of her dad’s death with a Campbellian monologue of her own. But…
Years before (she modestly omits this) when she was six, Czech film director Otakar Votocek pronounced of the visiting pair: ‘The daughter will go further than her father.’ In her sense of scale, of circularity and narrative, her plot accumulators, her art, she has. She tells you frankly it all began with screenwriting guru Robert McKee. More on him soon.
Daisy Campbell’s a counter-culture hero. At twenty in 1997 she directed her father’s twenty-four hour drama The Warp ‘the world’s longest play’. Since then she’s adapted and staged her own sequel to the same material, rather than her father’s: Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger in 2014 and 2017, and the KLF anti-pop-group’s comeback, Welcome to the Dark Ages last August. These are the people who burned a million pounds, so they say They’re here too, with a wicked set of cards (namely Aleister Crowley’s). A West-End run of Macbeth in Pidgin English, Makbed isn’t. Shame. What’s uncanny is that this is her first full-blown one-woman show, her first un-Kenning.
Pigspurt is Ken Campbell’s Daemonic side, as he celebrated in… Pigspurt, a second-hand collector’s book on sale here. Pigspurt’s Daughter (also available as text) is on one level an avowedly up-yours to the Electra Complex and every other element you could possibly invoke: Campbell’s there before you. And so is Ken, who keeps on nudging his daughter, or so she tells us, telling her she’s up his arse. In fact he’s looking for the woman whose nose matches it. Good luck with that.
If the Campbells are coming, Daisy Campbell ensures you know which one it is, not just in her uncanny nasal mimicry of her father’s voice which several colleagues have mastered (Jeremy Stockwell, in Terry Johnson’s two-hander Ken for instance); Daisy’s different to Ken. She spiralises her narratives, they’re fractals of a whole.
And she tells you what she’s about to enact: since right at the start you’re invited to see this eleven-year-old self perched with her father attending of all things that Ken wouldn’t be expected to envisage, a screenwriting course with Robert McKee, who’s still doing it at eighty-two. The set-up, the inciting incident, the pay-off, the third act climax…. to the end of the line… They kept each other awake with such bed-time badinages. And that of course is the structure. Daisy deconstructively plots it all out for you; you almost forget she’s following the hard-nosed McKee. It just so happens she’s a natural.
Daisy’s surreal quest to go farther than her father can be a relief – when Ken’s daemonic side Pigspurt is summoned by Daisy through an accidental act of gastromancy (the rectal invocation of dead spirits). Just be careful of a beef-tea blowback.
‘‘It was the year they finally imminentized the eschaton.’ That, Spores is the opening of The Illuminatus! By Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’ Daisy adds, saying she’s trying to interpret a recurring dream. It’s also the opening of Pigspurt’s Daughter, as well as referencing her own sequel to her father’s and their Illuminatus and his The Warp. Simply, it‘s bringing on the end of the world, though in fact by the end we know it’s about bringing on a kind of nothing, ‘the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is’ as the poet Wallace Stevens says of ‘The Snow Man.’ ‘And I am just a scream in the sky’ Daisy adds uncharacteristically, of a ten-year bereavement and a narrative cunningly set.
Daisy takes us around her memory stall, inflecting her strict narrative with swearings and ad-libs as items fall over. Already there’s a brick, which we’ll come to. The McKee writing course that structures this narrative, an African parrot (she doesn’t relate the fact that Ken bought this with money she gave him to buy a computer) with pootraits, photographs of parrot droppings and the only things that never return. Well…. that anal connection’s pretty consistent.
McKee talks of the Storyteller. Ken got a Channel 4 programme when Daisy was about ten (so about 1987), interviewing great minds on notions of the self, especially since Ken keeps popping out of hers.
This is her starting theme, its location, taken through a range of scientific enquiries – Daisy completed an MSc in Transpersonal Psychology – and back to McKee’s Storyteller, the gap between expectation and fulfilment, asserting a moral need (more on that and its relations to mushrooms later). It’s backed up by all kinds of grisly brain experiments (including Daisy perhaps inducing suicide in a man she interprets through a Crowley card) but ultimately that’s what we get. Pigspurt, notionally Ken’s Storyteller but now taking over Daisy.
Daisy ripostes with some graphic displays of rectal invocation. And setting fire to a twenty-pound note.
Or, as she her put it with Ken inside, ‘FINALLY you’re stuck up my arsehole!’
How to top that in the second half? Let’s concertina that as you’re going to have to found out. Daisy veers to KLF the anti-band, Cathars (we’re subjected to all sorts of Cathar pilgrimage spots including their last stand in 1244), the Gnostics, g-knowing, seeking one of her father’s sets of ambitions for her, to oversee some breakthrough in the CERN Accelerator in Geneva. The vacuum-packed place where nothing is measured. And this impossible feat is brought nearer by a gnostic Cathar scientist with a CERN grin, an analyser: ‘we’re all happy’.
And we’re back to KLF’s obsession with building a pyramid made in part of people’s ashes. It’s getting all too climactic a kind of anti-Antigone moment as Pigspurt tells Daisy if she follows her brainwave and disinters him/Ken he’ll let her off another of his other tasks for her: dog-sledding in Anchorage.
That’s apart from the moral need and the morel mushroom, the Mycelium, the adherents of KLF’s Mu Mu and Mumufication (that brick). How to deal with Dad? How to deal with Pigspurt? And the gnossos or g-nothingness? No wonder Douglas Adams loved Ken. And at Ken’s grave with the exhumation party imminent (imminentized, no less) a momentous decision, some revealing clothes and the secret of the universe will be released. It could be our end. At least of our fat controlling selves.
Daisy Campbell’s a mesmerising performer, eyeballingly interactive (one front-bencher gets a Crowley card though tantalisingly is never asked to render it back), someone who can frame in two hours (with brief interval) a breathlessly tight narrative with panache, a farceur’s humour and trembling pathos. She brings a language rich in wise absurdism and profundity undercut by graphic performances. My fractured summary does its elegance scant justice. But some of its faded scent might come off the ether.
You probably weren’t there. This is a one-off though touring. Even the text is published – in a puce and chrome yellow cover with graphic portraits, Guardian and Terry Johnson quotes – with no ISBN barcode or any means whatever of acquiring it save from Daisy herself, or her email. Which you have to buy the book for. Oh – firstname.lastname@example.org
However…. on Sunday night May 20th the Odditorium hosts from nine till midnight and possibly thereafter a Ken Campbell homage in the same Spiegeltent Bosco. The aficionados present in the one will be there, and there’s space if you’ve read this far. ‘So come on iconoclasts, forward…’