House lights up. Over at the Traverse Kitson’s latest ‘play’ flickers into life with the clicking of a few dozen strip lights and the gleeful crunching of theatrical convention. As of 1.52 GMT on Friday April 27th 2012 , This Show Has No Title turns itself on Kitson’s hard-won reputation for humane and bittersweet one-man dramas and cannibalises the entire process of artistic creation, criticism and celebrity.
As a meditation on the writing process it is wickedly astute, as a folds within folds meta-narrative it’s as smart as a whippet and as theatre it is utterly involving and often hilarious. Kitson’s plays have never concealed their close relation to his own personality or autobiography, but with the possible exception of 66a Church Road, he has never placed the figure of Daniel Kitson – Artist so central in the frame.
Whether or not the constructed Kitson of As of 1.52 GMT… is any closer the true Kitson than the wistful souls of his previous shows is relatively unimportant compared to its significance in relation to that other Kitson-persona, the idiosyncratic, obtuse but world-beating stand-up comic. Kitson has always played free and easy with the line between theatre and stand-up (as he frequently reminds us, he is something of a maverick) but this year the similarities between those two worlds are stronger than ever. The figure of Max in 1.52 GMT, the man who deconstructs himself, relieving himself of worldly possessions at every opportunity feels peculiarly like a key to Kitson’s own humour.
Where Once Was Wonder is explicitly a story-telling show. As in 1.52 GMT there are three stories that loosely link and interlink, three stories which represent ‘a series of impossible things that slowly become inevitable’ and in doing so reflect on a persistent tendency of existence. The shaving of a beard, the decapitation of a piglet, the declaration of love to a close friend, each of these events forms the terminus of a chain of conventional circumstances that produce an unconventional result. This is the way that life functions, Kitson suggests, this is the way that true stories develop. In 1.52 GMT the characters of Dan and Jen are locked in a debate regarding the creation of stories from a network of rules or even a single rule wildly elaborated. One of 1.52 GMT’s most profound insights develops from the subtextual inference that reality itself can be broken down into a series of rules, that all consistency in the observable universe develops from them. Here the same principles lead us to Kitson’s reasons for shaving his beard off, but Where Once Was Wonder is just as eloquent on questions of identity, self-perception and how an individual projects themselves onto the world.
In some ways Kitson’s theatre is still playing catch-up with his comedy routines, which have blazed the trail of formal deconstruction and self-reflexivity for over a decade. Where Once Was Wonder sees the same need to reveal its own trickery, to draw attention to the structural supports that make the apparently effortless into an artform. Kitson calls-out his own call-backs, his pull-back-and-reveal’s; just as 1.52 GMT is read out with stage directions intact, Where Once Was Wonder retains the annotations and asides.
There has been much talk of bridge-burning and slate-wiping with regards to 1.52 GMT, but as Where Once Was Wonder illustrates, Kitson has always kept one eye on the writing process, he makes it look easy but never allows us to forget that it isn’t, that it’s been sweated out and meticulously formed into shape. The comic edifice is finely wrought and towers high above those of his contemporaries, but the strings are always visible, the scaffolding is still in place.