Tree at Old Vic

Written and performed (with Tim Key) by Daniel Kitson, Tree is described as a (relatively) new play about dissent, commitment, two people and a tree.


I came to Daniel Kitson late. About a year ago, his name kept cropping up in conversation and I had no idea who he was. Writers told me he was a great writer who did some stand-up. Comedians told me he was a great stand-up who did some writing. Theatre people told me he was a theatrical talent, finding his voice. They all told me that he didn’t do TV because he had to control every aspect of his performance. Nobody called him a control-freak.

When I saw that the Old Vic were trailing his ‘(relatively) new’ play for two people, Tree, I rushed to get a ticket. But I couldn’t buy one because only members and his mailing list could book. My Twitter-stream filled with ticket-holding fans; how was it that everyone I know was on this man’s mailing list?

I did get tickets when public booking opened. I booked for a weekend matinee. But not a normal matinee: the matinees for Tree are at 11am, and when the tickets arrived, they weren’t tickets, they were vouchers to exchange for tickets at the box office on the morning of the matinee. Was all of this an example of Kitson’s need for control (or does he just really like watching sports on Saturday afternoons) or am I reading far too much into it?

Arriving at the Old Vic, I had to queue, in the rain, to exchange my non-ticket for an actual ticket. Then up to the Lillian Baylis circle which I can now confirm is higher that the top of a fully-grown tree (but not an oak). The show went up late, possibly because of the ticket-exchange shenanigans or maybe because the stage-hands hadn’t finished the technical set-up in the newly configured, in-the-round auditorium.

As people drifted in to take their seats, many had to walk across the stage, around the huge tree that dominated the space. They were almost tripping over the stage-hands.

Oh, hang on, they aren’t stage-hands, that’s Kitson and comedian Tim Key, on their hands and knees, ‘drawing’ the set and spelling out the word ‘ROAD’ with masking tape.

Then Kitson climbs into the tree, the lights go out and back on and Tim Key’s character rushes onto the road, prepared with a picnic, late for a very important date.

What follows is a beautifully crafted hour and a half of dialogue. The back and forth, rat-a-tat-tat delivery shifts our focus, wrong-foots us, walks us down some dead-ends, and mixes some metaphors as we learn (or think we learn) how their paths have crossed at this particular time and space.

Tree is very funny. It’s exactly what good theatre should be, a play that you can’t imagine working in any other medium.

Key does a great physical job of unraveling his role whilst our only sight of Kitson is in glimpses through the foliage.  I can’t stop staring, peering, hoping to get a glimpse of the elusive character as he controls the performance.

I enjoyed every minute and I’ll be looking out for other opportunities to be controlled by Daniel Kitson. It’ll be easier now because I’ve joined his mailing list.


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