About halfway through the second story of three, in the middle of a series of thoughts on the benefits for men of sitting down on the toilet, Daniel Kitson breaks off, looking up from his notebook: “These are not Harry’s opinions, these are mine.” For someone whose reputation was built on “genre-busting stand-up comedy hybrids” (his words), this first direct instance, over half-way through three hours of material, of Kitson ‘going meta’ comes as a surprise. The show up to now has been unadulterated storytelling of the highest order. It continues like this as we close in on the four hour mark as Kitson, ably assisted by singer-songwriter Gavin Osborn, weaves three interlocking tales on love, longing and the nighttime.
The three stories stand alone as impressive pieces but are infinitely enhanced when performed as one – the breadth of Kitson’s imagination is so compelling.
The format for Stories for the Starlit Sky is simple – just three stories, told one after the other, with accompaniment and songs from Osborn. The first story begins like a million other bedtime stories – ‘In the middle of the countryside there is a wood, and in that wood there is a clearing, and in the clearing is a building….’ Whereas it would be so easy from here to set about this familiar structure with some genre-busting irony, the wobbly-hearted Kitson is restrained, treating us instead to what are essentially adult fairytales, complete with all the sacrifice, joy, doubt, and love that being a grown-up entails.
Three hours (not including intervals) is a long time to listen to anyone talk, even someone with Kitson’s delivery. This is where Osborn comes in, his contributions for the most part enhancing Kitson’s narratives. For instance, in the opening piece, there are a number of flashback-type vignettes worked into the text; these might seem jarring or slightly bemusing but for the addition of Osborn’s background banjo picking to bracket them off. Similarly, the narrative function of the songs which pepper the second tale provide a bittersweet counterpoint to the main text. The one criticism (it almost seems too harsh a word in the context of the sentiment of the show) that could be made is that Osborn’s tendency to stick to similar keys and picking styles on the guitar can lead to attention wandering a little – but this is a minor gripe.
We live in a world of postmodern self-reference and Kitson is not immune to this. William, the young boy in the final story who tries to convince his father to allow him to stay awake, plays the role of the intra-textual critic, keenly aware of plot-holes, unnecessary alliteration and flawed characterisation in his bedtime story as the audience listens to theirs. But even this is done with a delicate touch, Kitson lovingly glossing over any narrative flaws with the authority of a parent (sometimes, adults’ actions can’t be explained, sometimes “they just go rogue”).
The three stories stand alone as impressive pieces but are infinitely enhanced when performed as one – the breadth of Kitson’s imagination is so compelling. The pieces take place over the same time-period, with the same small group of people; the move from the centre-stage of one narrative to a passing appearance in the next is sentimental in the extreme but never mawkish. Even the most hard-hearted cynic could not help but be moved by these elegiac yet life-affirming stories. Count yourself lucky if you have your hands on a ticket.