An overwhelmingly happy-making aspect of living in this city is the access I get to performances by bands, comedians, musicians, authors, and other inspirational creators who make it their hub and their home. And for me, one of the foremost among these is – I say without hyperbole – Daniel Kitson. To call him a comedian seems a bit limiting, although comedy is the attitude for which he’s most known. I guess I’d broadly categorise what Kitson does into 3 areas:
1) Comedy, standup & short stories
2) Comic shows exploring an idea
3) Theatre/story shows
Whilst I don’t really believe in the fatalistic concept of “luck”, I would still regard myself as being very lucky to have had opportunity to go along twice recently to see Kitson’s story show, “66a Church Road – A Lament, Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases”.
The premise of this show is that it’s one man’s narrative of the relationship he has with his home over the course of 6 or so years, described with the passion, emotion and detail with which one might use when describing a relationship with a lover or family member. It is a tightly scripted show, where Kitson mainly sits centre stage in a wooden chair amid scattered and heaped suitcases, letting the detail unfold as if it is the first time he’s ever told the story. Over the course of the hour and a half he moves from his first meeting with the flat, to recounting various triumphant moments that took place inside, through his decision making process to buy the flat, then the growing of his resolve to do so, before moving on toward the end of the relationship and closure of that chapter of his life – the narrative sprinkled and dotted with recorded sections of anecdote or observation on some occurrence involving the flat.
As usual, I just don’t know where to start – the central theme of the performance is that Kitson regards time living in a place as a relationship with that place, and repeatedly talks about the growing familiarity with the walls, stairs, pathways through the space, the foibles and features of the place, the ongoing wrangles with irritation (such as the non-working doorbuzzer and its impact on his life), his delight in the type of window the place has… It’s a clear delineation between the idea of “house” and “home”, and the idea of home is clearly of massive importance to him. Having lived in places I regarded as either of those over time, I could clearly remember the feeling of sadness of moving out of somewhere that meant “home”, versus a place which was little more than a bed and a place to store my stuff.
I don’t know about Kitson’s writing process, but it seems to me that given the amount of craftsmanship and care he takes in selecting exactly which word to use (and the assembly is masterful) that it’s possibly a Douglas Adams style journey of perfectionism, taking ages to finesse the piece to say exactly what he wants to say, exactly how he wants to say it, and being ofttimes taunted by the constraints of a language that doesn’t have quite enough subtle variations on the word “snow” (for instance). He switches between ideas and modes that are familiar, then grand. Self-aggrandising, then self-deprecating. Masterful, then vulnerable. Intellectual & conscientious, then puerile and facile. At the risk of cliché – Kitson’s words and ideas are a richly textured canvas, and when he says “wang” or “dickbag” it seems certain that an amount of appraisal has taken place as to whether that’s the best spot for it.
One of the ideas I found memorable from the show – possibly because it was also one of the first – was the idea of Daniel Kitson having spent the last 8 months since leaving his last flat living on his friend John’s loungeroom floor. He’d reached a point where he felt that his presence was becoming tiresome for John now, and he vowed to take the very next place that was available, no matter how shabby or ill-suited to his needs that it was. I love the fact that John refused this, saying that Daniel’s presence had become a bit tiresome after a week or so, and bordering on rude after a month. John however now felt that it was imperative that Daniel find the perfect flat that he was looking for, otherwise John’s 8 months of sacrifice would have been in vain. Now imagine that, but told *well*.
This is one in a long line of Kitson shows that I’ve been lucky enough to go to (Stories For The Wobbly Hearted, It’s The Fireworks Talking, Weltanschauung, The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, The Ballad of Roger and Grace, Stories For The Starlit Sky, We Are Gathered Here), however it’s the only time I’ve had opportunity to see the same show twice: a practice I’m quite into, in order to see how much changes between nights and why. Being a tightly scripted piece – vastly different to the errant ramblings of Ross Noble, Eddie Izzard and Billy Connolly which I’ve done multiple nights of – there was still a little crossover and variance, and each performance was still organic enough to be considered a unique thing in its own right. As the second show I went to was the final of the run there was also a moment afterwards when The Big D thanked all the people he needed to thank, and said that each show was different, and mentioned how the previous afternoon he’d had an unexpected guest on stage – one of the key figures in the show is his former landlord; a difficult man, who caused Kitson all manner of grief and conflict regarding the house situation and not a figure with whom the audience shared much sympathy. So predictably, following the Saturday matinee show, a large balding figure strode down the steps towards the stage and embraced Kitson, saying “I’m the Landlord!”, and grinned benignly at the audience – who were clapping uncertainly, unable to figure out whether this grinning meaty intruder had any sense of awareness about his own place in the story which he’d just watched.
Anyway, the event which inspired me to start writing this really was the Monday night following 66a Church Road, on which was a charity fundraising comedy gig for homeless charity Cardboard Citizens, and the night was to be compered by Daniel Kitson. Following the expertly crafted wordsmithery, Kitson in freestyle mode is a very different animal. Many friends of mine say they’re not fans of his standup stuff, but I look at it as an exercise in contrast – both to his story shows, and to the rehearsed & honed comic sets of other comedians. He unashamedly riffs off anything happening, maintaining an air of being absolutely in control, flicking from the mundane, to the obscene, to the absurd, and terrorising the front row by ruthlessly taking the piss out of one punter, then having quite a sweet chat with the next one. Disinterestedly beginning the “What’s your name / what do you do?” thing which is de-rigeur, he lambasts one profession, confesses his inability to say anything funny about child social workers due to his respect for the function they perform, and upon learning that the next victim was a student he suddenly kicks the microphone stand over and screams in a mock-tantrum to an unseen event organiser side of stage, “I only asked for 2 things when I agreed to do this gig – a massive ring of red lights hanging just above my head, and NO F***ING STUDENTS IN THE FRONT ROW!”. Later, after individually disseminating a number of free earplugs he’d stolen from back stage, he started talking about how much he liked bacon and addressed the student from earlier – trying to find some common ground in the awesomeness of bacon. The student stated that he was a vegan, and without breaking gaze Kitson throws the mic stand over again, then defiantly walks off in mock-protest against the breaking of yet another performance clause.
There’s probably no point in going on endlessly, so that’ll do for now.
If you want to see or hear more of Kitson’s work, you’re kinda shit out of luck – he’s notoriously antagonistic to the idea of recordings, so there’s precious little footage about other than the odd YouTube video:
And a couple of audio recordings which he started distributing as a podcast about 4 years ago, but never got around to doing any more of.
Objective opinion? Absolutely.