Battersea Arts Centre, London, 8th January 2019.
Daniel Kitson’s one of the most frustrating comedians ever to exist, which may sound harsh but he’s so popular that tickets for his shows normally sell out within a matter of minutes and as he’s been against the recording of them once he stops performing the shows you’ll never get the chance to see them again. There’s one exception to this in his astonishingly great “It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later” which you can rent for £3 and I’d recommend everyone doing so, it’s stunning stuff and one of my favourite pieces of comedy.
Now he’s doing a three week run at the Battersea Arts Centre of his new show Keep, and because there are so many dates for once it was possible to buy tickets with ease, a situation I’d never encountered before. Indeed as I write this review tickets are available for a few performances, and I would recommend your doing so. But that said, this isn’t Kitson at his very best, it’s a strong show with some sublime moments but it’s overlong and the way it ends is slightly frustrating.
At the beginning of the show Kitson comes out on stage and explains how this is a little different to his stand up shows and his storytelling pieces, and that the audience hasn’t always responded well. The plan is for him to read from cards a list of every object in his home, and that’s all we’re due to get, and supposedly at a preview the previous night an audience member walked out towards the end calling him “A fucking fraud”. He gives us the opportunity to leave and get a full refund if we don’t like the sound of the show, before leaving the stage for a couple of minutes. I noticed that two people did actually exit the room which surprised as I didn’t really think anyone would believe him when it came to the central concept.
Two minutes later Kitson re-enters and takes a box of cards out of a large cabinet, sits down at a desk and begins to read them. The descriptions of the items in his house are fairly amusing but it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t all that’s going to take place, as some of the cards have been put in the wrong way round and on the back they contain notes he made in the past for story ideas or possible stand up routines and he becomes distracted by them. This allows him to insert some very funny material in to the show as he tells jokes about the nature of storytelling, privilege, love, loneliness, companionship, how certain objects reflect the kind of person he was at a certain age and other various themes. This section of the show is enormously funny, it’s packed with hilarious moments and Kitson shines here, his philosophising being truly thought provoking stuff.
Unfortunately the show is just too long, it was supposed to run for 110 minutes but at this performance it went on for 150 and towards the end it begins to disappoint. At one point he begins to realise that the cards that have been placed back to front have been done so as a deliberate act of sabotage, and then later that he didn’t even write the notes himself. How he failed to not recognise that it wasn’t his own hand writing isn’t addressed, but worse is that when he discovers that 51 of the cards tell a complete story it takes a bloody age for him to put them in the right order. Perhaps it’s dramatically necessary, but it’s a shame he couldn’t create a way to speed up the process as it’s quite frankly a tad boring watching him do so. The end story is fairy interesting but not worth the wait either, and feels a little slight considering the long build up.
It’s a real shame because there’s material here that is absolutely superb, fascinating and funny and certain sentiments will stay with you for a long time afterwards. Given that it overran by thirty minutes I imagine Kitson will work on it further until it only lasts for the proposed time and that will certainly make it a stronger work, but the disappointing ending probably won’t change and this is an issue. It’s undoubtedly worth seeing, this is Daniel Kitson we’re talking about after all, but don’t go expecting his very best work.