Touring – reviewed at Hampstead Theatre, London
Daisy Campbell, daughter of legendary theatre maverick Ken, has quite a legacy to live up to. It was equally exciting and confusing to have a father who whisked you off, aged 11, to Robert McKee’s legendarily intense, three-day story structure seminar in Hollywood, or who took you out of school to tour the Cathar sites of Europe. In the ten years since Ken died, he has been celebrated by people who find him impossible to forget, including by Terry Johnson in Ken earlier this year and last year’s Campbell extravaganza Cosmic Trigger, directed by Daisy herself. Already a writer and theatre-maker of note, Daisy’s one-woman show about her father confirms her as touched by inherited genius, but with her own, exceptional ability to hold an audience in the palm of her hand.
Pigspurt’s Daughter is a wild ride, expertly written and delivered by Daisy alone over the course of two hours. It is an attempt to make sense of the storage unit full of Ken’s belongings she has been unable to tackle – everything from his talismanic wooden tie to his gruesome fat suit and photographs taken to demonstrate that his nose looks like a woman’s arse.
Daisy is well aware of the symbolic weight of these objects, dogging her life long after Ken’s sudden death, and the need to deal with her father’s complicated legacy. The show includes multiple arse metaphors as a result, Daisy trying to escape from Ken’s, while his demonic spirit manifests in her insides, as ‘Pigspurt’. She tries to separate out the ‘storyteller’ half of her brain, and understand how it directs her life, deploying neurological research and philosophy, and the Cathars keep getting involved, as do hidden mycelium networks that mirror underground culture.
The combination of antic performance and intellectual obsession is in the spirit of Ken, but the show is more than a tribute. Daisy’s conflicted feelings about her father are unflinchingly explored too, from his demanding nature (“What have you done of note?”) and lack of interest in her, to his list of goals for her that are both funny and terrifying (“Become a Chinese violinist” “Supervise a breakthrough at CERN”).
As she explains, Daisy spent timein an asylum in her twenties, and her unconventional upbringing came at a price. Her portrait of a man who was both brilliant and impossible is something of a corrective to any tendency to assign theatrical sainthood to Ken – a moving, fascinating account of a relationship with a bafflingly real person. ‘Pigspurt’s Daughter’ also features an astounding final sequence, in which Daisy lights on an unbeatable plan to tame her father’s legacy, involving exhumation, which leaves the audience gaping. Ken Campbell was entirely himself, a rare and precious quality for a performer. So is Daisy Campbell. There is no doubt that, just like her father, whatever she chooses to do next will be unclassifiable and unmissable.