First performed at a (packed out) 10am slot at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe, and then revived at the National Theatre and later in New York, Daniel Kitson has chosen Manchester for the latest – and possibly final – outing of his “show about everything and nothing”. It’s a smart choice. The in-the round staging of the Royal Exchange has given this piece an even greater sense of intimacy.
Although still best known as a preternaturally gifted stand-up comedian, Kitson’s story monologues have started to rival his more conventionally comedic work; both The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church and 66A Church Road displayed a keen sense of poignancy, a storyteller’s eye for detail and love of humanity. It’s Always Right Now Until It’s Later takes that and runs with it.
The piece tells the story of two ordinary people, whose lives are unconnected except for a brief glimpse at a bus stop. The stories of Caroline Carpenter and William Rivington unfold in opposite directions: Caroline’s in the more conventional way, from birth to death, while we follow William’s life from his deathbed in hospital to his first minutes of existence.
Kitson tells these intertwining stories by picking out various moments along the way: the fleeting incidents that define someone’s life, seemingly mundane at the time, yet in their own small way, memorable. Moments such as eating a meal alone with a small child staring at you, or falling off a bike during childhood. Each of these individual moments is represented by a series of glowing lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, which Kitson frequently crouches by, cupping in his hand as if protecting the lives of his fictional creations.
Of course, Kitson being Kitson, this is an incredibly funny show at times: the comic highlight being William’s existentialist rant while going on a date as a 39 year old. It’s a piece of writing which so perfectly nails the loneliness and desperation of the late 30s dating scene that it’s almost painful. Kitson’s quixotic turn of phrase provides much to enjoy: “who amongst us does not enjoy the word ‘toboggan” he muses at one point, or his perfect summation of the show at the start: “This is not a love story – there is love in it, but it’s no more about love than the Bible is about carpentry”.
There are also a number of pitch-perfect ad-libs, from his opening struggles with his microphone, to the sudden realisation that the stage set-up was rather too close to the audience at times. He stops the show near the end as his braces has come undone (“come on guys, you could have told me that my braces had come off…we’re just going to have to start all over again now”) and even the couple who misguidedly leave halfway through the show are instantly referenced by Kitson in the middle of his monologue.
It’s the sadder moments that stay with you the longest: William’s one moment of perfect happiness with the love of his life, before he’s sent spiralling off into a life of contented, if lonely, solitude; Caroline’s encounter with an old lady, assuring her that “it’s all normal” as she struggles with her crying baby; or William sitting next to his dying father, thinking back on pivotal conversations in their life “wishing that he could just hear his voice once more”. The two main characters are so beautifully sketched that, by the end of the show, with Caroline’s peaceful death running parallel with William’s birth – made all the more poignant as we now know the life that’s ahead of him – there are more than a few audience members softly weeping, so completely transported have they been into Kitson’s world.
It’s a world of mundane yet life-changing moments, a world where nobody’s special yet everyone’s remarkable, a world that Kitson creates with such spellbinding, life-affirming ease: a world that, in fact, we all live in. Everything and nothing, indeed.