THEATRE / That sink-plunging feeling: Paul Taylor reviews Ken Campbell's latest monologue, Jamais Vu

Paul Taylor
Sunday 10 October 1993 23:02

IN 1988, the Board of the Royal National Theatre tried to force its artistic director to get rid of Alan Bennett's Anthony Blunt play, A Question of Attribution, on the grounds that it was insensitive for a 'royal' institution to represent a living monarch on its stages.

But if they were prepared to get heated about what is, after all, a fairly flattering portrait of the Queen, you can only assume that they will auto-combust at the various warped House of Windsor fantasies that are floated in Jamais Vu, Ken Campbell's new solo show at the Cottesloe. (They begin with the idea that Billy Connolly's language has got more obscene as a result of 'nobbing' with the Royal Family and end with a surreally scabrous, over-long yarn about going to the New Hebrides in search of the tribes who worship Prince Philip as a god.) Given this artist, though, a little institutional unrest may well be part of the intent.

You know you're in for something bracingly seditious when Campbell's familiar figure (part truanting garden gnome, part benign satyr) traipses on with his 'zimmerbasket' ('There's not actually a lot in it, but it gets you through the beggars') and heads into a typical conspiracy-theory yarn about the real purpose of the National. This 'military fortress temporarily housing the arts' is actually, we learn, a bunker for protecting the elite in times of urban disturbance, secret officials disguised as punters roaming the building in case trouble erupts.

He then hits on what, for theatre- goers, could be as fruitful a comic genre as the 'Dear Dennis' letters or 'The Secret Diary of John Major aged 47 3/4 '. Reminding you a bit of those dotty, rambling anecdotes Frankie Howerd used to tell of his professional dealings with Bernard Delfont, Campbell offers a wonderfully fantastical and indiscrete account of his various phonecalls about the show with Richard Eyre. Allowing him to attribute all sorts of right-off as well as right-on views and prejudices to the National's chief, this is a vehicle that can career, refreshingly, over any luvvy piety.

I particularly relish the idea of Eyre's warning Campbell that the last person to do a solo piece in the Cottesloe was the 'dangling French Canadian' (aka Robert Lepage) and that consequently 'our audiences may be fazed' if they can understand his. This imaginary Eyre is consequently rather relieved to hear about Campbell's intended routine of sticking sink-plungers to his head: this, it seems, will give 'those who can't follow (the show) something to look at'. A theatre critic can only envy a form that allows you to take so many astute liberties.

With the Hare trilogy playing in the Olivier, Campbell's three pieces in the studio theatre constitute, he claims, the 'bald trilogy'. Coming after the inspired Pigspurt, Jamais Vu feels a bit deja entendu, the fantasies not quite as funny, the long and involved riff about John Birt's lack of charisma an extended elaboration on the brilliant portrait, in the earlier monologue, of the actor who 'could make a stage seem somehow fuller if he left it'. Campbell, by contrast, is very much a presence, and an appealing one, though here's one genius, you feel, who is unlikely to be booked for the Royal Variety Show.

'Jamais Vu': 13, 14, 22 Oct at the Cottesloe, National Theatre (071-928 2252); complete trilogy (with 'Furtive Nudist' and 'Pigspurt') 23 Oct. Then at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith W6, 3-28 Nov (nightly exc Sun)

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