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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Shortall’

I wasn’t planning to see Terry Johnson’s loving, funny & moving homage to his friend Ken Campbell. I wasn’t a Campbell fan (loved the eccentricity, struggled with the self-indulgent excess), so I didn’t think it was for me. On its last day, impulse propelled me to the Bunker Theatre for the matinee and now I feel I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The last time I was instantly captivated by a design was upstairs at the Menier when I gasped as I walked into What’s It All About?, the Bert Bacharach homage. Tim Shortall has created an immersive carpeted environment with seating on three sides and three levels, populated by settees and chairs, lamps and plants, pouffes and cushions. Johnson himself spends most of the 90 minutes at a lectern telling us about his personal experiences in Campbell’s orbit. Jeremy Stockwell as Campbell turns up all over the place, mostly in the audience, illustrating Johnson’s memoir. A lot of it involves the ten-part 24-hour play The Warp staged in a disused cinema at the Edinburgh fringe almost forty years ago, but we also hear of the misguided disaster that was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at the Rainbow Theatre, Campbell’s spectacular prank on the RSC (publicising it’s transformation into the RDC shortly after Nicholas Nickelby) and other shorter stories.

It’s beautifully written and inventively staged by Lisa Spirling and I was enthralled. It left me wanting to to travel back in time and live life all over again, this time as a Ken Campbell fan.

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A biographical play about a cinematographer? Jack Cardiff’s career reads like a history of 20th Century cinema, but why a play? It seems to have been suggested by its leading man, Robert Lindsay, and playwright / director Terry Johnson has dramatised it for him.

We’re at the end of Cardiff’s life, at his country home, with his wife Nicola, played by Claire Skinner, his son Mason, Barnaby Kay, and new ‘assistant’ Lucy, played by Rebecca Night. He’s got dementia, so it’s all recollection and reflection, and attempts to write a biography.

In the brilliant opening scene, he tells the history of screen shapes and sizes by opening a garage door. The first act ends as superbly as the second begins when we flash back to the filming of The African Queen in Kenya, where Barnaby Kay transforms into Humphrey Bogart, Rebecca Night into his wife Lauren Bacall and Claire Skinner becomes Katherine Hepburn – all brilliantly, as Kay and Night are again later as Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe (not the first time she’s featured in a Johnson play!). Before and after this though it’s all a bit slight, and I came to the conclusion the life was less interesting, name-dropping and possible infidelities aside, and stageable than they at first thought.

That said, there are four fine performances, an excellent design from Tim Shortall and enough to make you pleased you went.

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