You know you’re watching a Channel 4 comedy within seconds of Campus, the much awaited follow up to surreal hit show, Green Wing. As tyrannical University Vice Chancellor Jonty de Wolf delivers his opening words, he describes Stephen Hawking as a “famously disabled spastic.” With Andy Nyman’s sinister, unpredictable and hilarious de Wolf, we’re in safe hands. If only the same could be said for the employees of Kirke University.
Campus certainly picks up where Green Wing left off, throwing at us a broad range of bizarre comic moments and a more physical, slapstick feel to boot. But the tone here is much darker than what has come before. While Jonty is clearly a man who is corrupted and corruptible, you get the feeling that all of the other characters are too. And whilst the entire show is made up of many differing elements, it is laced together with a unique brand of seedy yet giggle-inducing filth.
Such filth is peppered throughout the sharp and sincere script, and more specifically Campus must set some sort of record for use of the word “vagina.” But this doesn’t mean this is careless comedy, far from it. In fact the dialogue is so accomplished in its use of sexual organs, at times it is almost poetic. As Jonty explains his wife’s acceptance of him having a concubine, he says “She knows I require more than one vaginal outlet.” Beautiful.
The first episode concerns Jonty’s eureka moment, which appeared to him, he reveals lustfully, when he was “deep inside his wife.” Further to the recent publishing success of ditzy Maths lecturer, Imogen, Jonty forces the dubious English Professor Matt to write a book for the University and bring in the cash. Jonty’s financial pressures are only worsened by an admin cock up by the accountant, Jason, to the tune of £800,000.
Campus is hugely original, some may say it is genre defining. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but this is pure entertainment which doesn’t need to fall under a specific category.
But the storyline is a mere backdrop to the assault on the comic senses provided primarily by Jonty, and then secondarily by the characters of Matt (Joseph Millson), Imogen (Lisa Jackson), Lydia (Dolly Wells) and Jason (Will Adamsdale.)
Andy Nyman’s Jonty dominates Campus – it may seem unfair to the rest of the mostly brilliant cast, but it’s Nyman you’ll be talking about once you’ve witnessed his performance. He glides effortlessly between slimy interchanges which make you feel a bit sick, bullish behaviour, high campery and openly racist mockery. On first glance you can’t help but compare him to David Brent (in fact this physical similarity may be a conscious decision,) but once you’ve seen him stick his finger in Matt’s ear and rub his earwax on his shoulder (ewwww), or fantastically rip the piss out of the Indian accent, you realise he is a very different animal.
In stark comparison to the bonkers world inhabited by Jonty and his staff, an element which never lacks credibility is the chemistry between kleptomanic womaniser Matt and the reluctant Imogen. While their conversation may not stretch further than “I bet one of the Brontes had decent norks” their comic timing and performances are so sharp that their relationship plays out like a genuine love story, which no doubt will keep viewers hooked.
Otherwise, engineering lecturer Lydia is blessed with the best one-liners in the show, despite Jonty’s omnipresence. Highly strung and just plain weird, she is never without her dictaphone, recording such corkers as “My father once told me that having a vagina would hold me back in life” and “My bank account like my fanny is a lobster pot.” As I said, lots of vagina. And accountant Jason provides the important “normal bloke” supporting role. When demanded by Jonty to become a rent boy in order to recoup the £800k, Jason says as straight as a die, “I would, but I have an odd-shaped anal cavity.” Just brilliant.
Other characters include the hyperactive sports student Flatpack (Jonathan Bailey) who is in awe of Matt’s success with the ladies, and the awkward admin girl, Nicole (Sara Pascoe) who is a little away with the fairies.
The overall picture of Campus isn’t yet a clear one. At times it feels a little like a few sketches have been slung together, especially as a lot of the Jonty stuff comes out of nowhere. But these are only small gripes – Campus is hugely original, some may say it is genre defining. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but this is pure entertainment which doesn’t need to fall under a specific category.
Which brings me back to Jonty, and the magic of Andy Nyman. Nyman is using his full range of talents in his performance, even pulling off a magic trick in one scene. It’s clear he is enjoying himself, and his irrepressible, power-mad eccentricity is a rare delight. Expect things only to get darker and loonier as the series progresses.
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