“Bellends, one after the other,” Daniel Kitson casually remarks of this evening’s line-up, before wondering out loud whether the space in front of the Dome stage wouldn’t be better were it a ball pit. Kitson appearances tend to be precisely timed pieces of theatre these days, in which any audience member making a sound risks scorn for imperilling the storytelling. So a chance to see his stand-up is both a treat and an opportunity to witness him cut somewhat loose, even if everything he does seems laser-crafted in its often-spectacular use of language and tone.
It’s also something of a secret: Kitson’s gigs traditionally cause ticketing sites to crash, but Show and Tell’s night – the first of an occasional series – enlisted Kitson as a late compere. “You get yourselves in, you get yourselves comfy and then we’ll really crank this f***party into hyperdrive,” he tells the theatre, before he abandons an outline of the house rules on account of his stutter (“often my most judicious editor”). Then he breaks off into a five-second song about his stomach, mercilessly ribs a heckler and derides a public display of affection as a harrowing indictment of the modern world.
You could easily watch Kitson, in the role of warmly daft host and forensic analyst of lurking absurdities, for several hours. But he’s here as chief foil to one of his co-passengers in the car down, Tim Key. Kitson, heroically, mocks Key for his ubiquitous voiceovers on television adverts, and the pair share a genius for the dramatic, having once shared the stage on Tree, an inspired play based around a treehouse. But Key is the strictly performative of the pair tonight. “I’ve got 70 of these,” he wearily warns, as the mournful, canned violin strings which play throughout his preposterous poems begin.
An imagined couple who serve cereal at their wedding receive the curtest of shrift. Everyman fodder about his dad’s struggles with technology turns into a loud, dark rant. He rattles off a succession of observational comedy clichés gone possessed, furiously hams up the hyperbolic (a book is “blowing his mind”, the mundane is “amazing”), and interjects with ashes being sprinkled on spaghetti. Like Kitson, he makes lucid his frequent sense of disconnection from society, and there are echoes of his work on the horrors of dating and loneliness. It’s bewilderingly fierce and hangs by a thread of perfect timing, and the 25-minute headline slot flies past, a flurry of farcical ideas, cynical outbursts and dreadful punchlines.
Brighton Dome, Saturday 3rd February 2018
Words by Ben Miller