ARTS : The Campbells are coming

Naseem Khan meets the cast of Ken Campbell Presents

There, processing down the marble steps of the Battersea Arts Centre, are a buxom blonde in chains and leather; a strained looking woman wearing a plastic table cloth; a Vietnamese violinist; an immensely tall drag artist sporting a flicked-up auburn wig; and, right in the centre, a chunky figure with the air of a benign but slightly dotty female librarian. This last is vaguely but inevitably identifiable as Ken Campbell, raconteur, eccentric and individualist supreme.

On this occasion, Campbell is playing the role of ringmaster. The five figures around him are his personal selection of performers from cafs, cabarets and intimate theatres in Britain and America. They all share, he says, the distinctive Campbell ethos."It's one of those happy things," he says, "like meeting five people I like at the bus stop. All five satisfy the Campbell code for good entertainers. I only like people who radiate, and who don't seem to know it. People," he goes on, "who are able to behave normally in front of three thousand people." (They aren't only to be found on stage. On good nights they're in the audience, too, shining like light bulbs, or, as he put it, "as if they've got a firework up their bums".) He likes people, in other words, like Coco Peru.

Miss Peru - aka 29-year-old Clinton E Leupp - is a wonderful creation, with the improbable gorgeous patina of a sugar plum. The Village Voice described her as "a sacrilegious experince akin to a mini Rocky Horror Picture Show", but her demeanour is distinctly ladylike. Having survived her first anxious taxi drive in London in drag, Peru sits beautifully upright on her chair, flashing slight smiles when you catch her eye. Beneath the tiny mini-skirt, long black lycra-clad legs stretch on for ever and ever beneath the table.

Sacrilegious? "Oh, I'm really very ordinary on stage," she says. "I just tell stories." So why in drag? There is, he explains, in a careful, husky voice, no drag queen flamboyance in his act, no lip-synching to Judy Garland songs or bitching with the audience. His drag is a device, he says, to snap people out of their sterotypes so he can get down to the real business, which is to open people's minds to the ordinary reality of people who play with gender. "People often ask me - `Coco, what is it you do? Who are you?' And I say, `Just imagine it's a group therapy session and' - his tone turns grabby and rough - `it's my turn to talk'."

Clinton has been talking (on various stages and in various cafs) for some years now, but it was only three years ago that he made his breakthrough. Or, as Clinton puts it, his superb violet eyes wide and candid, "I felt guided. You realise there's a force outside, and inside." And the force said to him, "Drag!"Finding Coco Peru proved a liberating experience. It put him firmly in the in-between world - not one thing or the other - where he felt able to be himself. "I was advised not to write about being gay because it would close off a whole audience. But hopefully my activism encourages people to be active about things they are passionate about in their own lives, whatever they are."

As Clinton talked earnestly about liberation, Cheryl Anderson was nodding ferociously. A 27-year-old Chicago actress, she has fled the legitimate theatre to the haven of the solo stage. "It is freeing," she said with cheerful emphasis. "It makes you feel like when you went into acting in the first place. You share your life with people" - in the manner, according to the Chicago Reader, of a "breezy Katherine Hepburn". "It gives you such a sense of community." She would never have had the nerve to join Chicago's competitive underground scene if it hadn't been for Campbell ("It's all his damned fault"). Seeing his Furtive Nudist on tour, "I thought the wind had been knocked out of me." Watch out, she warned the less Campbell-seasoned Peru, "It's scary when you meet Ken.Your life turns into this Ken Campbell whirlpool of coincidences and synchronicities."

But by this time, Campbell, looking more like Dr Dolittle than a Merlin or Svengali, hasmoved away, and is attacking a vast slab of cake with a vigour that is slightly gross.

n `Ken Campbell Presents', at BAC (0171-223 2223) to 2 April

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits