When Daniel Kitson gave the Latitude Festival audience a tantalising glimpse of his new show this summer it was still very much a sapling. Two months later and Tree has put on branches and leaves, emerging into the gloom of a drizzly autumnal Manchester night as a mighty oak.
Although not quite the anticipated sell out – the Royal Exchange was pockmarked by a surprising number of empty seats - this new piece from the man regarded as Britain’s leading comic storyteller has commanded considerable excitement.
You do not have to be Kenneth Tynan to spot the immediate parallels with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: two men, a tree and a long conversation about not very much which seems to touch on just about everything. Alan Partridge sidekick Tim Key plays Vladimir to Kitson’s Estragon and the two spend the 90 minutes on stage probing and testing each other with great skill.
Kitson is up the eponymous tree for the duration whilst Key paces anxiously and with not a little menace below as he prepares for his picnic date with the elusive Sarah. Whilst in many ways the entire show is a slow build-up to a single – and very funny - punchline, the joy of the performance comes in the carefully paced journey towards it. It is a loving and playful exploration of language and the way we use it to temper the absurdities and mini-dramas of our lives. Humour and poetry is readily gleaned from the everyday: chatting up girls on crowded buses, dog shit in the autumn leaves, pain-in-the arse neighbours. In the spirit of Beckett there are much bigger questions, too - about beginnings and endings; trust and belief; commitment and delusion, which continue to turn over pleasingly in the mind as you make your way home.
Kitson, a 2002 Perrier winner, has built a reputation as the JD Salinger of modern comedy – largely due to the fact that his only major TV appearance was in Phoenix Nights (which he later denounced) and because he doesn’t give newspaper interviews. Critics, whom he doesn’t furnish with review tickets, love him nonetheless. Fellow comedians, such as Stewart Lee, regard him as the leader of the pack. He clearly takes his art seriously and his audience treats him with similar reverence. Tree is a perfectly-formed piece of writing and a beautifully realised performance by two outstanding artists. Well worth enduring a spot of neck ache for.
To 21 September www.royalexchange.co.uk