19 March 2009
Ken Campbell lives in Chigwell
Odd though it may seem, the late Ken Campbell went to Chigwell School in leafy, upmarket Essex, a scholarship boy from down the road in the more Cockney-infested Ilford and Becontree borders.
In his last few years he’d reopened a relationship with his alma mater for two reasons: he lived very near, in a Swiss chalet in Epping Forest (now occupied by his daughter Daisy and her family), and he liked the school’s new theatre and its affiliation with E15 Acting School, where he taught.
“Taught” may not be the word: set a bad and dangerous example would be nearer the truth. All these elements came together on Friday night when a group of final year E15 pupils, supervised by Campbell’s fellow improvisers Josh Darcy and Sean McCann as “goaders”, took over the Chigwell Drama Centre with a riotous evening of impro and revue sketches.
The thirteen students — ten girls, three boys — counted backwards out loud from one hundred to zero while each composing a sonnet, one or two of which were then recited, and they weren’t bad. (They weren’t all that good, either, to be fair.)
Then we had the Campbell ventriloquism demo, with inbuilt lessons from Darcy and a row of Muppet-like puppets reciting, in unison with the audience, the tricky exercise line, “Who dared put wet bat poo in Mummy’s bed; was that you, Verity?”
One of the students, Rebecca Boey, did one of Campbell’s most brilliant and demanding turns, which is to switch between versions of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven: the one as written, and the one as re-written without any “e’s” in it.
And then between versions of the poem without any “e’s” and without any “a’s”, as prompted by the goader. It’s all George Perec’s fault. And, I think, Gilbert Adair’s.
Anyway, halfway through thinking — what is the point of all this, why bother? — you realise that these young performers are being liberated into a state of something like inspirational rapture, a very good place for an actor to be. One wishes the six glum ladies in Madame de Sade, with or without Judi Dench and her sprained ankle, had been so transported.
There were some very funny original sketches, too. Merce Ribot, a Spanish student, recited a letter to the Queen begging for nationality in a country that had invented the radio, Viagra and concentration camps; “I would love to be English, ” she concluded, “so I don’t have to learn another language.”
Sign her up! Then Susan Lay donned a nun’s habit and sang “How do you solve a problem called chlamydia?” and that was the cleanest line of a hilarious item which I somehow don’t think Connie Fisher will be including on her national tour.
One or two old schoolfriends of Campbell — the prolific writer and mystic Nicholas Hagger among them — were staggering about afterwards saying they’d never seen anything like it before, and the Friday evening subsided in genteel jollity at the wine bar before we dispersed through the leafy environs, me to the Debden outpost on the Central Line, they to the suburban safety of Woodford and Buckhurst Hill.