LINDSAY KEMP FEATURE
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For many years, performance artist LINDSAY KEMP was both darling of the avant-garde and enemy of the establishment, and for four of those years he played out that role in Edinburgh. Twenty years on, in what many believe to have been artistic exile, he makes a rare return visit with his new production Cinderella. Ellie Carr went to seek out the man behind the myth.
indsay Kemp is off to the opera. He’s dizzy with excitement. like a child on his first trip to the circus. What’s more he’s travelling by train, by far the best mode of transport, in his opinion. for indulging his most favoured of pastimes. telling tales. The long journey across Italy. from his adopted hometown Rome to the site of the opera in Ferrara. will doubtless thrust armies of chat-hungry strangers in his direction. Like a fly to a spider’s web. they will be drawn unsuspectineg into the latest, greatest version of the life and times of Lindsay Kemp.
‘lt’s fabulous sometimes when people ask what I do.’ he says. in silky smooth English- ltalian tones. ‘They get the full range of my imagination! I don’t invent something because I’d like to do it. I’m already doing the thing 1
dreamed. But sometimes. well sometimes they think I’m a footballer. God knows it’s not the voice!’ he says. camping it up for effect. ‘lt’s the build you see. The build and the legs.’ And before I can get a word in edgeways . . . ‘Or a sailor, of course. A lot of them think I’m a sailor.’
‘Sometimes they think I’m a footballer. God knows it’s not the voice! It’s the build you see. The build and the legs . . . Ora sailor, of course. A lot of them think I’m a sailor.’
Interviews it seems. have a similar effect on him. and the tales from his dressing up box have frequently reached print. One reliable source states his place of birth as the Isle of Lewis. His parents were indeed Scottish,.but Kemp, much to his distress, was born not on a remote Scottish lsle, but in Birkenhead. ‘l’ve regretted it for a long time now.’ he protests. ‘but then you’ve got to be born somewhere. Ijust claim to have been born in Scotland. I’m a dreamer, and an artist and the whole point of my existence is that I can be what I want to be.’ As if by way of compensation he now refers to Scotland (and a few other places) as his spiritual birthplace.
And then there was Marcel Marceau. Kemp had the deepest respect for Marceau and, since his own parents weren’t very artistic, he thought it might have been nice if the great French mime artist were in fact his real father. ‘I remember
telling somebody at great length,’ he admits, that yes, Marceau had had an affair with my mother. God knows what my mother would have said if she’d read that!’ His mother must have been the only person that didn’t get to read about it. The ‘Lindsay Kemp Bastard Son of Marcel Marceau’ story made it to the national newspapers. There are grains of truth in there. Somewhere. ‘Marceau was very kind to my mother,’ he explains. The great Marceau and Mrs Kemp love affair. though, was a downright lib. ‘I don’t really think he was her type,’ he chuckles.
Going a few dozen or so branches back on the family tree, Kemp has also claimed, and still does. to be a direct descendant of Shakespeare’s clown William Kemp. ‘True or false‘?’ I ask, not really expecting to get an honest answer. ‘Well that may even be true,’ he says. ‘I never checked it out at Somerset House, but then I‘never said I did.’ Kemp three, journalists nil I think to myself. ‘lt’s certainly much truer than being Marcel Marceau’s son,’ he says with a straight face. ‘Will Kemp and ljust had too much in common. I mean what we have in common relates us anyway if not by blood.’ This story- telling lark is beginning to rub off and I suggest reincarnation. ‘Well maybe,’ he says, seizing on this new angle. ‘I feel that quite strongly. The parallels in our lives have just been too similar. In the end though, the possibility of that blood tie is just too hard to resist. ‘Anyway,’ he concludes, ‘we are related.’
Try shouting - ‘Will the real Lindsay Kemp please stand up,’ and you’ll get fifteen replies.
The List 27 Jan-9 Feb l99513