Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Jeremy Stockwell: Ken

By | Published on Thursday 18 January 2018

Opening this month at The Bunker Theatre is a play featuring the character of, and paying tribute to, late great theatrical dynamo Ken Campbell. The piece was written by award winning writer and director Terry Johnson, inspired by their own friendship, and, following an initial run a couple of years ago, returns to the London stage in the year marking the tenth anniversary of Campbell’s death.
The multi-skilled Jeremy Stockwell is the performer tasked with bringing the extraordinary character of Ken to life. I spoke to him, to find out more.

CM: Can we start with the premise of the play – what’s the story, and where does it take us?
JS: ‘Ken’ tells the story of how 23-year-old Terry got to work with theatre maverick Ken Campbell, and the subsequent profound effect he had on Terry’s life. ‘Ken’ is the retelling of an extraordinary friendship from beginning to end, replete with wickedly funny anecdotes, magnificent hoaxes, and general chaotic lunacy – all infused with the spirit of the great man…

CM: Does the narrative have any basis in truth?
JS: Yes, although the true bits often seem far fetched, and the bits that sound made up are actually real!

CM: For those who know less about him, can you tell us a bit about Ken Campbell?
JS: Ken was a theatrical innovator and visionary, but also a very down to earth and ordinary bloke. He was ordinary and extraordinary. He was one of the best natural clowns Britain has ever produced.

CM: It’s the tenth anniversary of his death this year – is the timing of the run deliberate?
JS: Yes. Our show at The Bunker is one of several events celebrating Ken. His daughter Daisy has made a show about their relationship, the British Library will be hosting readings of his work, and there are other events to watch out for.

CM: How did you prepare yourself to play this role?
JS: Watching, remembering and channelling Ken is useful. Ken directed me at The National years ago – I got to know him, and we kept in touch. And having a great well written script helps too.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about playwright Terry Johnson and what inspired him to create a play with this theme?
JS: Terry is one of our most successful writers and directors. He finds the humour in the human condition, and the cosmic in the comic. I guess he just felt ready to write about one of his most influential encounters.

CM: How did you become involved in the production?
JS: Actor Alan Cox kindly suggested me for it. I met Terry and we sort of clicked. I didn’t have to audition. I hadn’t read the play. I took along a hat Ken had given me shortly before he died. And we had a laugh remembering Ken.

CM: Your own career has been pretty eclectic, hasn’t it? Is there one job title you could give yourself, or is that too hard? What do you like to do best?
JS: It’s fun to do different things. I’ve been fortunate enough to have made a living doing work I love – acting, directing, writing, teaching. All creative disciplines come from the same source. It’s a delight to celebrate life in this way. I love whatever I’m doing at the time best.

CM: Was this career what you always wanted? How did it begin?
JS: I was born into a theatrical bohemian family. I’ve never wanted to do much else which is fortunate, because I don’t think I’d be much good at anything else.

CM: What plans or hopes do you have for the future?
JS: To watch my kids grow up healthy and happy, to spend time with them and my wife, and just to keep working to support them, really. Finding the balance between the two can sometimes be tricky.

CM: What’s coming up next after this?
JS: I’m playing Spike Milligan in a show I made with Chris Larner. It’s called ‘A Sockful of Custard’, and we’re at The Pleasance Theatre, London. Spike would have been a hundred this year. Like Ken, Spike was another mighty clown and innovator. In an age of bland culture and dumbed down ideas, it’s probably time to stand up and celebrate the maverick.

‘Ken’ is on at The Bunker Theatre from 24 Jan-24 Feb. See the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.


Photo: Eamonn McCabe