Despite taking a break from the Edinburgh Fringe this year, Daniel Kitson has been pretty productive and prolific of late. He has been touring his ‘sit-down comedy’ show After The Beginning Before The End and at this year’s Latitude Festival performed no less than four separate shows.
One of those shows was the work in progress which would eventually become Tree. The piece is also his first created in collaboration with another comedian. And as that other comedian happens to be Tim Key, it’s no surprise that this news was greeted by one person on Twitter as “the comedy nerd’s equivalent of Batman appearing in the Superman sequel”.
The premise of Tree brings to mind Samuel Beckett’s most famous play – two men having a very long conversation while waiting for somebody who never arrives. While the parallels to Waiting For Godot are inescapable, the piece itself sees Kitson returning to beautifully familiar territory. Although some of the comedy is gentler than in other pieces, the show abounds with flights of fancy and bursts of whimsy, interspersed with poetic one-liners (“for every one person frolicking in a fountain, there’s another broken in a bedsit”).
Kitson spends the entire duration of the play up the titular tree (which is full-size and dominates the stage), while Key paces underneath, waiting and preparing a picnic for a date with a girl called Sarah. Over the 90 minute running time, we learn about Key and Sarah’s relationship, and just why Kitson appears to be living in a tree. The interplay between the pair is brilliantly handled and it’s hard to believe that – apart from a couple of preview nights in London – it’s the first time they’ve performed the material with each other.
It’s also worth mentioning how effortlessly Key slips into his role; anyone who’s seen his work as Alan Partridge’s sidekick Simon, or remembers how easily he stole the Rafe Spall film I’ll Give It A Year will recognise his comedic acting prowess, but it’s still somewhat revelatory watching him play Kitson’s nervy, anxious unnamed foil. Kitson’s role is basically his stand-up persona, albeit located several feet up in the air, but his performance too contains some moments of real pathos amid the laughs.
The piece explores themes which Kitson has explored before – loneliness, commitment, isolation and the need to seize opportunities as they arise – all are riffed upon here. Kitson’s writing celebrates the little heroic details of day-to-day life (such as talking to a girl on a bus) and the final twist leaves things deliberately ambiguous, to the point where it’s likely you’ll be tempted to return for a repeat performance.
There are no plans to tour Tree after this limited run, and with two of the most engaging and exciting comedians of their generation appearing together, this could be a rare opportunity to experience something truly special.