Few acts at the Fringe this year have generated such a buzz as Australia’s Sam Campbell, who didn’t need to go long into his run at the Monkey Barrel before word got round and available tickets evaporated. He may have won the Barry at Melbourne, but there was something of the unknown quantity about him on this cosseted shores. No longer. He may have missed out on a nod for the Comedy Awards, but his mark has now been made. This insane, multimedia mulch of non-sequiturs, ramshackle props and slightly malevolent playfulness is perfect midnight Fringe fodder. Nothing makes sense in the world of this self-proclaimed ‘wackadoo’, but it doesn’t matter a jot.
If there is a running theme hidden amid this pinball smash through Campbell’s goldfish attention span it seems to be a disdain for conventional standup. He begins the show with footage of his compatriot Dave Hughes spliced into nonplussed reaction shots of Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. The slight shock of seeing the disgraced actor used so cavalierly makes this even funnier. He later introduces a horrific animated standup called Braingus, a skinless thing of nightmare that he edits into footage from Mock the Week, satirising the old-boy network that keep their vice-like grip on the British panel show.
Such is Campbell’s hyperactive style though that anything approaching a deeper message could be considered as entirely accidental. He jumps from daft jokes to aggressive audience banter, to weird and slightly unsettling animations of him shooting his enemies in the head (the Guardian’s Brian Logan included), as an Oscar, or photos of great apes at which he repeatedly harangues the audience to bow in respect. If it sounds stupid, meaningless even, then you won’t be far wrong; but there’s usually some nugget of comedy gold in each little segment. There is also something childishly innocent about Campbell himself that holds the attention, in that he appears simultaneously endearingly enthusiastic and on the verge of a toddler tantrum, which comes courtesy of a planted feminist in the crowd.
While all this zaniness may lack the higher structure that underpins the most compelling absurdists like Spencer Jones, John-Luke Roberts or Mark Forward, it’s most enjoyable to be caught in the eye of Campbell’s personal whirlwind as he hurls himself around the stage (and quite often off it). There may be a few sections that finally try the patience, particularly towards the end of the hour, but The Trough is otherwise a triumph of maniacal, anything-goes lunacy.