Kinkens may sound like the product of make-believe, but in fact the Old Scottish word for “evasive answers to questions from curious children”, is more than fitting for Pip Hambly’s Socratic child’s play.
In this work-in-progress, Hambly is Kinkens, an offbeat radio show host who answers questions sent in by listeners via old-school letters in her slot “Kinken’s Questions”. On air, Kinkens tackles these questions in the manner her name suggests – laterally – and these humorous responses go down well with the audience. Yet, when the red light is extinguished, Hambly expresses the existential disturbances that her listeners’ questions pose through mime-like dance, and monologue.
The performance successfully weaves in and out of absurd humour and existential ennui and crisis. Reminiscent of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape in its use of recording, Hambly modernises the form, bringing comedy to the forefront and underlining its importance in the battle against life’s unanswerable questions.
That said, whether it’s the meaning of life, or why a listener can’t get out of bed in the morning, Kinkens tries to ‘answer’, and consequently demonstrates both the futility and yet the necessary compulsion to ask such questions and to understand.
The work feels like a comedy, yet it doesn’t set out to remain that throughout. Tragic moments seek entry towards the end of the play, notably in the form of Jill (also played by Hambly), the one listener whose multiple letters go unanswered by Kinkens. However, it is as this alter ego, begging Kinkens to respond, that Hambly sadly corpses on stage and just for a moment, undermines the existential undercurrent and the work itself.
Yet, Hambly is a remarkable talent. The script reveals an intriguing and imaginative mind, and as a performer she commands attention, easily bearing the weight of what could be a very cumbersome topic. Her transitions are seamless and the moment when she uses dance to convey the anxiety felt at dealing with such questions, is one that manages to convey much truth, and is deeply touching.
The set is simple, yet quite beautiful. An antenna, a microphone and a chest of drawers: it screams makeshift, yet is deliberate. It verges on stark, and it hits just the right note of the physical for a performance that seems to seek to pin down the abstract.
Kinkens is what theatre needs. Experimental, yet accomplished, this is a work-in-progress that deserves to be seen.
Photo: Camden People’s Theatre