Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Daniel Kitson: genius at work

Apart from a friend being flat-ridden with a terrible back problem, I had another great time at the Edinburgh fringe and book festival this year. We stayed for a week, which meant we could take things a little easier but still see a load of stuff.

Anyway, rather than trying to review everything exhaustively like I did last year, I'm just focusing on one performer who gave us two of the real highlights of the week: Daniel Kitson.

Kitson is an astonishing writer and performer who won the Perrier Award in 2002 but shuns publicity, avoids weekend gigs and wouldn't touch telly with a 10-foot pole (after his unhappy experience as Spencer as Phoenix Nights).

We first saw him perform last year at his theatrical monologue 66A Church Road: A Lament Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases. That was a beautifully structured and delivered meditation on having to leave a rented flat to which he'd got very attached and, by extension, what we mean by 'home'.

It was given extra resonance for us when it became apparent that the Church Road of the title was the one up the road in Crystal Palace on which my friend and writing partner Janet lives. (Since then we've seen DK a few times, usually through a thick miasma of 'yummy mummies' in Domali).

This year we caught both of his shows. The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church is his follow-up 'story show' to 66A Church Road, but is delivered in a more stand-uppy way; his only props for the 90-minute performance are a table, chair and small notebook.

However, it's a brilliant and compelling shaggy-dog story. He tells the tale of how finding an attic full of letters in a house he was thinking of buying led him to piece together the life story of the title character, who seemed to have finally killed himself 24 years after writing his first suicide note.

As Kitson relates how he became engrossed and went through the 30,000 letters, he creates a vivid picture of both Gregory Church and his various correspondents, dropping revelation after revelation and building up to an unexpected and very satisfying conclusion.

We Are Gathered Here, his epic stand-up show (1 hr 40 mins with no interval the night we saw it), was also a total sell-out and explores similar themes. It starts with the observation that the fact we all know we're going to die can leave us treating life like the crap last day of a holiday, when you've checked out and are just killing time waiting for your flight home.

However, he uses these ruminations - inspired by the death of his Downs Syndrome aunt - to touch on various aspects of his ramshackle and slightly dysfunctional lifestyle, before tying the threads together to reach a life-affirming conclusion: as grim as it is, grief is still a part of being alive.

His stage persona is hard to pin down, wavering between between an unflinching examination of his social and physical limitations and a pushy, overconfident awareness of his intellectual capacity.

Quite apart from the virtuosity of his performances, Daniel Kitson is very much a writer's comedian: his love of a telling phrase and the structural skill with which he constructs and unfolds his stories lift him far beyond the rest of the comedy herd.

Comedy is obviously a highly subjective thing, but you really should spend an evening in his company some time.

(He's currently touring We Are Gathered Here in the UK and Australia until November, and he's hoping to launch tours of 66A Church Road and Gregory Church next year. More details and a mailing list are available at his website.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review. Saw him last night at Union Chapel - excellent.