66a Church Road
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
Simon Callow – A Festival Dickens
4 stars ****
Assembly Rooms (Venue 3)
ONE OF THE JOYS of Daniel Kitson is that he is – in his life and work – a living, breathing refutation of the big lie that serious theatre and comedy on the Edinburgh Fringe are enemies, rather than complementary branches of the same art-form. From a dazzling start just six years ago as a 25-year-old winner of the Perrier Award, Kitson has matured into a writer of superb dramatic monologues about the state of our nation and our hearts in the early 21st century; and an unobtrusively brilliant and commanding performer of them, too.
66a Church Road is described, by Kitson, as a “break-up show” for the flat in Crystal Palace where he lived for six years, but which he felt he had to leave when his repeated attempts to buy the place from his cultural thug of a landlord finally failed. What Kitson has to say about our complex remembered relationship with the places we live is obvious enough, although beautifully captured in a set which features piles of suitcases full of tiny model “memories” of the flat in its heyday; and this brand-new monologue is not yet quite as perfectly shaped and trimmed as last year’s compilation-tape show, C-90.
Where Kitson really hits his stride, though, is in his brilliant understanding of how our dealings with the property market bring us into contact with our cash-based civilisation at its most crass, greedy, reductive and soul-destroying. On the surface, this is a play about Daniel Kitson and his flat. But at its heart, it’s about the relationship between a good man in search of a kindly and fulfilling life, and a society that often seems to have lost all sense of beauty, humanity, craftsmanship, quality and love. And when that theme fires his writing with the fierce, lyrical anger that is Kitson’s hallmark, what emerges not only makes us laugh; but also speaks for the part of all of us that struggles to stay human, in a harshly commercialised world.
Like Kitson, Charles Dickens was a great champion of humanity in what seemed like heartless times; and it’s hard not to be struck by the similiarity of mood – compassion, anger, love, humour – that links Kitson’s style with that of the great observer of human greed, absurdity, kindness and eccentricity in the England of the 1840’s. Simon Callow’s 100-minute Festival Dickens – playing at the Assembly Rooms – offers two superb long monologues, based on the stories of Mr. Chops, the dwarf who wins the lottery, and Dr. Marigold the cheap-jack, a good man who makes his living by selling goods off the back of a cart. The show represents no great stretch for an actor of Callow’s quality; he takes the stage, he dons the wigs, he understands the language, and he gives the stories to us with great generosity, in the grand old-fashioned style.
But the quality of the writing is simply breathtaking, in its vividness, its inventiveness, its sheer imaginative power; and it reveals Dickens as a writer with a sympathetic imagination strong enough to break the bonds of his own time, and to show a real passion for the equal worth and value of each human life that is rare even today, in a 21st century world supposedly founded on those values.
66a Church Road until 24 August, Simon Callow until 25 August.
pp. 231, 231.