Writer/Director: Daisy Campbell
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
In the world of British experimental theatre, no light shines brighter than that of Ken Campbell. The anarchic, imaginative, hilarious, challenging works that the writer and director presented were unlike any other. While he made a name for himself as a director of challenging works – a 22-hour production of The Warp required its lead actor to be on stage for all but 10 minutes; his adaptation of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy transported the audience around the ICA on the back of an industrial hovercraft – it was his art as a solo storyteller that inspires his daughter, Daisy Campbell, to perform her own one-woman show.
Marking a decade since her father’s death, Campbell talks of wanting to come out from under her father’s shadow even as, as a result of having to sort through his archive, she puts together a typically unorthodox play combining his stories with her own.
From the beginning, Campbell gives clues that the seemingly free-wheeling monologue is in fact highly structured by giving an early account of attending a story structure workshop with her father given by the legendary screenwriting tutor Robert McKee. As father and daughter’s conversations become peppered with screenplay jargon, all inciting incidents, third act climaxes, Campbell signals that she is giving us setup after setup, where nothing seems relevant, with the promise of payoffs, where the relevance is revealed.
But the key elements from that course encapsulate some of Campbell’s best solo work, as well as this piece. The gap between the expectation of what should happen in a reasonable universe populated by reasonable people, and what actually happens, is where the best stories happen, Campbell postulates. Throughout Pigspurt’s Daughter she is on a quest through that gap, but the notion of a physical gap haunts her too: dreams of a brick pyramid with a hole at its base, tales of neurological experiments that sever the two halves of a brain, the gnostic beliefs of the Cathars – but mostly of the gap that is the absence of something: the self.
Riffing on a documentary on the brain her father hosted for Channel 4, Campbell surmises that, while nobody has yet found a physical location in the brain where our sense of self-resides, there exists within us a voice, a storyteller, that masquerades as our self. For Campbell, it manifests as an inner psyche called Pigspurt that her father explored in a monologue for the National Theatre. Pigspurt is a trickster, a provocateur, who incites Campbell junior to search for her real self by doing something that will surprise it into existence.
Unsurprisingly, Campbell is able to recreate her father’s distinctive nasal drawl. Combined with mementos and photographs from his life that form the show’s set, the sense is that while her father may have died ten years ago, his spirit lives on, and not just in the form of Pigspurt.
Campbell’s monologue seems to meander aimlessly at times – from a self-discovery workshop in Paris to her work with contemporary artists and musicians the KLF/Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. But there is purpose in it all. Each of McKee’s buzzwords become manifest in the play’s closing sequence, as the Act 3 climax brings payoff after payoff.
Not all of them are significant, but most play into her story’s principal plot line. And while her epiphany about the origins of where her incarnation of Pigspurt may have come from is a bit pat, rendering it much the most conventional element of an otherwise unconventional story, it does seem to provide a sense of closure for a woman who has had a hole in her life for ten years.
Reviewed 11 July 2018 | Image: Contributed