Daniel Kitson: ‘Tree’ review

February 2, 2015, Article by Richard in Culture, Reviews, Theatre & Comedy

Half the drama when it comes to Daniel Kitson performances occurs weeks before, when you are sat at your computer doing battle with the overloaded website server of the theatre you’re trying to buy tickets for. Luckily, this time we were successful in snapping up some seats for his new play Tree, at the Old Vic.

First performed last summer in Manchester, Kitson has revived his two-hander with fellow comedian Tim Key for this short London run. In some ways, if you get rid of the extraordinary tree that dominates his set, and where Kitson spends the entirety of the performance, and lose Key too, this could possibly have been another classic Kitson storytelling show – two strangers slowly getting to know each other, their dramas unfolding, exchanging hilarious, snappy dialogue along the way. Crucially, though, unlike the vast majority of those shows, Kitson swaps sentimentality for beautifully disguised bathos, and hints at the darker side of human nature.

Tim Key’s unnamed character arrives swearing and shouting, thinking he’s late for a picnic date with a long-forgotten girlfriend. A bloke up in the tree (Kitson), works out that he’s actually an hour early due to confusion with daylight saving times, and the stage is then set for the two to spar and question each other. It turns out Kitson’s bloke in the tree moved there as a protest against council measures and, nine years later, is now squatting there.

The characters feel each other out, teasing each other with new revelations and dropping in hints about their real motivations, just as Kitson teases the audience. There are long asides as Key’s character obsesses over the tree-dweller’s toilet habits and eating arrangements, and they bicker about miner details before returning to their respective stories. Of course this is where Kitson’s superb use of language comes to the fore, both with delighting in words such as ‘pollard’ or describing in great detail the appearance of dog shit covered by autumnal leaves, but also with the some excellently timed swearing. Key, in particular, effs and blinds with relish. And only Daniel Kitson could get so much comic mileage with business about a bucket on a string.

The energy does somewhat diminish around the two-thirds mark, but the ending creeps up on you and heads to a darker place than you are expecting, where big questions are asked about the stories we tell ourselves and each other, the things we hide and how we convince ourselves of our own morality in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

 A few extra dates have been added, from February 16 – 22. Try get some tickets here