Daniel Kitson: Examining Humanity with Singularity, Frankness, and Wit

English solo performer Daniel Kitson is known for his eccentric and engaging theatre performances and stand-up routines. Kitson shies from the media–he has no agent or manager, gives no interviews, and only communicates with fans via mailing list. Despite this, he has garnered a cult following in the United Kingdom and Australia, and his shows sell out rapidly: the announcement of a show at London’s National Theatre crashed its website with ticket demand. Kitson has captured this following with work that’s funny, humane, unsentimental, and irresistible in its insight and ingenuity. As the New York Times writes, “His darkest stories come with laughs, and his jokes can choke you up.”

Kitson started his stage career at age 16 with a stand-up routine at the National Student Drama Festival. Kitson explained, “I’ve always been older than I am. I was a middle-aged adolescent in tweed trousers.” His routine began with a focus on the truth and a fascination with puns that developed into a “fierce intelligence and sensitivity to language” (New York Times). In 2002, at age 25, he won the Perrier Comedy Award “for the funniest, most outstanding, up-and-coming comic, comedy show, or act” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Kitson premiered his first “story show” in 2003 and has since developed parallel careers in stand-up and theatre solo work.

His 2005 Stories for the Wobbly-Hearted was an early success. The piece is a series of stories about solitude and lonely people and explores how, as he muses in the play, “sometimes [loneliness] is actually a little bit heroic.” The play received a Scotsman Fringe First Award and reaped a raft of notable reviews. Its sequel of sorts, Stories for the Starlit Sky (2009), linked three stories that examine love, hope and melancholy, and cemented his reputation as a writer who is simultaneously “lyrical, funny, vivid and humane” (The Guardian).

Kitson premiered The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church in 2009. While the show explored Kitson's staple interests—the nuance, frustrations, and heroism of everyday life—it also marked an evolution toward a cheeky engagement with the unreliability of memory, stories, and people. It considers the nuances and integrity of overlooked lives, but with “the rampant path and velocity of a particularly twisty tornado” (New York Times). The story follows Kitson discovering 30,659 letters written over 24 years in the loft of a cottage he is trying to purchase. These letters are, apparently, the longest suicide note recorded: when the writer, Gregory Church, sent letters to various townspeople to warn them of his imminent suicide, they wrote back. The piece, which also won a Scotsman Fringe First, was the first of Kitson's shows to play in New York City.

Kitson’s subsequent works continue his inventive quest to realize narrative theatrically—through a story told forward and another backward in It’s Always Right Now Until It’s Later (2010), and a duet for a live performer and a recorded voicemail in Mouse: The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought (2016). Analog.Ue (2013) is an extreme experiment in storytelling: Kitson does not speak during the show, but presses “play” on various recording devices to orchestrate a story he’s recorded on 46 cassette tapes. While Kitson occasionally gestures along with his recordings, the play evokes both presence and space for absence: “His descriptions of what isn’t there are so meticulous that the emptiness seems to have an architecture” (New York Times).

In 2017, Kitson made his first US appearance outside of New York City when he premiered A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order. at Studio Theatre.  Written for the Washington, DC audience, this show explores Kitson’s intrigue in a local bicycle accident, told as he projects old-fashioned slides onstage, piecing the mystery together. Now, two years later, Kitson is returning to Studio Theatre with Keep. (2019). In true Kitson form, Keep. is as eccentric as it is thoughtful, as he sets out to catalogue all 20,000 items in his home. It's a meditation on hope, regret, sentiment, and burden—and, as he explains, “the inevitable sadness of ever holding on to anything.”

Throughout his career, Kitson’s mix of simple but rigorous theatrical form and an eye on the transcendent has earned comparisons to Samuel Beckett, for a shared “uncompromising bloody-mindedness” and “absolute control over his output” (The Guardian), and to fellow Yorkshireman Alan Bennett’s sympathetic but clear-eyed assessment of people’s eccentricities (The Guardian). But Kitson’s voice is unmistakably his own, even when recorded or given over to an increasingly improbable shaggy dog tale. Although Kitson is always experimenting and pushing boundaries in both his stand-up and theatre, his masterful storytelling and ability to craft characters, thoughtfulness, and heart—often in minimalist sets—are permanent features of his style.

Join Kitson’s mailing list: https://www.danielkitson.com/mailing-list.