Pigspurt's Daughter by Daisy Campbell | Review by Steve Bennett at Hampstead Theatre
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Pigspurt's Daughter by Daisy Campbell

Review by Steve Bennett at Hampstead Theatre

In a theatrical word full of larger-than-life characters, Ken Campbell was one of the largest. An anarchic, creative trickster of mad ambition and unquenchable zeal, always willing to try something just for the hell of it. 

He also thought all critics were liars because they never tell the fundamental truth: that all theatre is bollocks.

Well, his daughter Daisy’s tribute - of sorts - to mark ten years since his death is absolutely full of bollocks. As someone who holds a masters degree in ‘consciousness studies’ and who spent time in a commune of drug-taking ‘psychonauts’ she tries to grapple with the notion of self through a head-spinning array of unorthodox, peripheral philosophies, crammed densely together.

Real-life brain studies whirl around with divinations, mystical pyramids, gnosticism, chaos-seeking Discordiants, the particle physicists of CERN and much more. She references the Illuminatus trilogy of books and her train of thought echoes with the ‘magic-laden trek’ of that high-concept adventure story, often told through inner voices and hallucinations. It helps if you know her father created a stage adaptation of Illuminatus! with Chris Langham.

Daisy explores her psyche through a number – too high a number, most probably  - of her own inner voices, while suggesting that laughter at its most incapacitatingly potent is a primal force itself. And in the second half the story takes an abrupt turn into the antics of the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, the artistic guerrillas formerly know as the band The KLF. Although WTF seems more like it… as it takes a while to realise that her encounters with them are the nub of the mystical story.

The monologue careers around wildly, often almost rambling, even though Daisy knows all the tenets of storytelling. Her dad took her to a seminar by the Hollywood screenwriting guru Robert McKee when she was 11. But perhaps in defiance of him, she plays around with the ideas of narrative: flagging up the set-ups, obsessing about the ‘negation of the negation’ that would provide a twist in the tale… and fighting with the very concept of convenient closures and climaxes of a traditional story structure.

There’s surprisingly little about the father-daughter relationship. With his wild escapades, he seems like he might have been a great dad, but asides about his demanding nature suggest more, without being properly developed. However, Daisy does wryly note that when he used to tell the improvisers he worked with, ‘I will give you impossible things to do, then shout at you when you can’t do them’, it sounded very similar to his parenting technique. 

This is not so much about how she connects with him as how she is using his legacy as a filter for her own demons, which often more malevolent than impish.

Despite the vaulting, infuriating, pretension, the show is often very funny and sometimes highly dramatic – and most frequently just plain weird. But her description of how the spirit of Ken’s mischievous inner demon, the Pigspurt of the title, enters her, is especially funny. And the parallels between filtering evil thoughts through an alter-ego and Ken’s fascination with ventriloquism are obvious.

When it comes to performance, Daisy – who has hitherto been best known as a director, including some of her father’s work – hasn’t fallen far from the tree, and throws her charismatic and energetic self all into it. And she does a more-than decent impression of her father’s distinctive nasal drawl. 

It’s a frustrating show, with promising strands falling away in her quest to be unconventional. But I suspect Ken would approve – and certainly many in the Hampstead Theatre audience tonight did, many of them surely fans, if not friends, of the originalBut as someone who knows Ken more by reputation than by his work, I felt the moments of drama and comedy were overwhelmed by so much ethereal mumbo-jumbo. 

Review date: 13 Jul 2018
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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