Day three of Michael’s trip to Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, a day bookended by Daniel Kitson, with Dickens providing the literary filling between.
Tuesday 23rd August 2016
My day was bookended by Daniel Kitson performances, but I’m struggling to show that photographically because Kitson doesn’t do publicity (other than an occasional email to his list – do join it if you haven’t, it’s always very funny).
Daniel Kitson Presents an Insufficient Number of Underdeveloped Ideas Over Ninety Testing Minutes Starting at Noon
The Stand Comedy Club, Stand 3
I was back at Stand 3, the same room where I’d seen Andy Zaltzman the previous day. I’d learnt to come early and I’d learnt that the stools at the back give the best view. I perched in anticipation.
According to Kitson, this show was supposed to be him testing out new material for a run of shows in London, later in the year. But he’s cancelled those shows (as he is want to do) and so hasn’t bothered writing anything. As he told us “this show is now little more than a contractual obligation”. So, instead of a stand-up show we got 90 minutes of him interacting with the audience. It was mostly hilarious.
We also got a bit of “admin”. Kitson, pulled apart the curtains, at the back of the small stage, to reveal Zaltzman’s illuminated Z, unscrewed a bulb and gave it to an audience member (being careful that she wrapped it safely in a jumper). He’s been doing that each day which is why Zaltzman is only half illuminated. Is that a funny thing to do?
To book for a Kitson show you have to be in the know, he books the space himself and tickets sell like things that really sell fast. If you’ve bought tickets for a Daniel Kitson gig you know what to expect. Even so, he seems to be able to hone in on the few that don’t (usually those who’ve been brought by a friend). Woe betide anyone who innocently checks their mobile screen or doesn’t seem engaged enough. He is at times the quickest-witted, funniest man alive, and at times his speed of comeback seems to bypass his relentless and unforgiving filter.
Still, everyone loved him and he was given the latitude to experiment in ways that others would never get away with. A consummate lesson in how to fill for ninety minutes and still leave a room full of people wanting more.
A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood
Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance Beyond
My family had been off, seeing UCLU Runaground’s interpretation of Dante’s Inferno, and while our sons went on to Questioning Vole Productions’ Three Layers of Meta and a Time Machine, their mum was meant to join me back at Pleasance Courtyard.
The venues are all a little further away than we’d accounted for and she was a couple of minutes late. I was waiting at the door with the House Manager so my apologies to Jonathan Holloway and the Chung Ying Theatre Company, we were the reason you started a little late on Tuesday 23rd.
Full disclosure (as I would say if I were in an American drama): we designed the publicity materials for this show. I’ve known Jonathan Holloway for 20 years, we used to do all the designs for his innovative Red Shift theatre company. Even so…
This production is stunning. A Tale of Two Cities is a dense and complex story to tell and they did it brilliantly. Holloway’s confident adaptation is just that, a retelling of the story for the stage, adapting the novel’s narrative to suit a very different medium. Characters are combined, timelines are collapsed and liberties are taken, all for the efficiency and effective telling of the tale.
The stage is a grid of wooden chairs, each above a pair of worn shoes. When a child is killed, his shoes are placed upon a chair at the front of the stage, it’s a powerful and poignant moment. Lighting is low level (some at ground level to emphasise the grid) with four spotlights placed at intervals down either wing, each with a microphone; these are turned on by characters to give intimacy and immediacy to their dialogue.
Subtitled Blood for Blood, the story centres on the bitterness of revenge and the implications of an act that ripple through generations of a blood line.
This was an accomplished and hugely impressive production and thoroughly deserves the smattering of five star reviews it has received.
DugOut Theatre: Swansong
Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance Above
Now I had a decision to make, do I join my family for Thrones! The Musical Parody or do I look out for another show at The Pleasance Courtyard. Yes, I know it’s not really a choice, I just wanted to add some dramatic tension.
Dugout Theatre are another of those hugely hard working, met at University (Leeds in this case), doing two full shows plus individual projects each day, type companies.
Four very different characters have survived a global flooding apocalypse and are now trapped at sea on a pedalo (actually there’s only chairs and exercise-pedals on stage which is understandable but a little disappointing). There’s a world-weary cynic, a mantra-chanting vegan, a public school ‘mayte’, and an exercise nut. Over the course of an hour, their cliched characters crack and each reveals a vulnerable depth.
There are songs, some almost dancing (strutting and preening), and a little audience participation as the front row are blooded after the killing of a swan – no, it’s just a theatrical metaphor, it’s OK.
Neat, concise, well written, well acted, clever, knowing, tightly directed, minimal props – Swansong is the perfect Edinburgh show. But I wonder if it would have the depth to survive outside of this world.
Loren O-Brien: Who?
Pleasance Courtyard, The Cellar
After a beer and email break over at the Pleasance Grand I came back to take a chance of Loren O’Brien…hmm, not my kind of humour… She finished early which made me happy because I had to get across to the Traverse to meet back up with family and friends.
Mouse – The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought
True to form, Daniel Kitson doesn’t seem to have produced any publicity material for his new theatre show. The only publicity photo is a blurry pic of him in a dressing room, looking at his phone. So, here’s a screen-shot, featuring that image on a website for a theatre in Brooklyn.
Actually, it’s such a good show you might consider booking and flying out to see it.
Kitson does three types of performance: well-constructed stand-up, rambling free-form audience interaction (like I’d seen that morning) and this kind of considered and brilliantly written theatrical stagings. If you were lucky enough to see his show Tree, at the Old Vic or elsewhere, then you’ll know what I mean.
Kitson plays William, a lonely writer in a warehouse office who, for eight years, has been trying to write, to construct a novel about an unlikely blinking mouse. His phone rings and it’s a wrong number from a man who accuses William of stealing his mobile. They argue until incredulity turns into intrigue as William begins to tell the stranger the plot of his book.
With the manual movement of a clock’s hands, Kitson jump-cuts scenes through a night of conversation with this stranger, slowly revealing the narrative of his novel and the parallel story of his lonely life, with friends humanely trapped and moved away.
The layers of plot hinge on a moment, a thought: this is impossible but it’s happening.
I don’t want to reveal more because you should go and see it. It’s clever but not too clever; the audience all know the twists before William but those revelations are sweet and neat and perfectly weighted.
Breaking up the plot, Kitson steps out of character to talk directly to the audience throughout the show. He uses these moments to provide flashbacks through William’s life. But they also provide insights into Kitson’s focus; he is so easily distracted – someone surreptitiously checking their phone: “mate, mate, what are you doing?” or someone with their head in their hands: “mate, are you OK; do you need help?” It’s funny but it puts us all on notice of best behaviour, and it must be crippling as a performer. For much of the audience this is also the first time they realise he has a stammer; you never hear it when he’s delivering his lines.
This is a wonderful piece of theatrical storytelling, And Kitson is a remarkable storyteller. He’s bound to perform it again in the UK; please do track it down.