Review: Tree by Daniel Kitson, Old Vic

Daniel Kitson Tree

New dates announced - skip to bottom for details.

When Daniel Kitson’s two-hander with Tim Key opened at Manchester's Royal Exchange in 2013 reviews compared it to Samuel Beckett. Two comedic blokes. A tree. Some waiting. There has to be a Godot influence lurking in there. The play has finally landed in London for a prestigious run at the Old Vic and I can’t really see the connection myself. There's a bucket, but no Beckett.

The action – using the word “action” loosely – finds Kitson high up in the tree engaging in conversation with Key’s character, a besuited lawyer with a cold box who has a date there. As the duo chat we learn about their view of the world. The conversation spins off in unexpected directions, with, importantly, plenty of laughs, along the way.  

What is most interesting to me is that while Kitson’s solo work has started to circle around familiar topics and tropes – sentimentality, memory, elderly people looking back on the past, tape recorders – Tree is also nostalgic at times but has a very different sensibility. It is good to see him, there is no other way to say this, branch out, 

The brief programme notes suggest that Tree is about “dissent, commitment”. Kitson’s character says that he is living in the tree to stop it from being knocked down. This involves an elaborate modus vivendi. He explains that he has worked out a way to acquire food, watch TV through a neighbour’s curtains and dispose of his triple-bagged shit. 

Key’s character responds with a mixture of disbelief and admiration. The two men form a temporary bond over megaphones and blowtorches. There are a lot of blokey “mate”s exchanged as Key prepares his picnic of nachos and soda below the tree and shares the contents of his flask. 

Needless to say, there are plenty of pithy lines tossed back and forth. Kitson, of course, is such a natural performer that even lines that aren’t funny on paper are funny when he delivers them while shuffling around high above the in-the-round stage (he is strapped to the trunk, he is not stupid). 

Key is the perfect counterpoint. Like the play’s writer he has won an Edinburgh Comedy Award but has been moving further and further from conventional stand-up. Key has done more acting than Kitson in recent years and has considerable stage presence. There always seems to be something going on under the surface. He can be both innocently childlike and sinister, often at the same time. Things are never quite what they seem. 

It would be pushing it to say that this is Kitson’s first overtly political work. There is a political thread running through it, but it is more about communication and relationships. The relationships of the two people onstage and the relationships they talk about. In that respect it is in keeping with his oeuvre, but it also feels very refreshing. Oh, and I think I mentioned this before, but it is also very funny. 

Until January 31. Update 20/1/14 - Due to popular demand and, according to Kitson the fact that the theatre has a gap in its schedules, it has added further dates from February 16 - 22. Tickets here

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