Tim Key: "Daniel Kitson knows what he wants. And he’ll physically smash my hands to pieces to get it."

 

Share

I am currently performing in a play in the North, and have been knocking my column together in the wings in between takes.

The play I’m doing takes place in a theatre in Manchester, Lancastershire. I’ve read it a few times now – I have to get to grips with entrances, exits and lines – and it’s dynamite. It’s about trees and was written, in August, by a writer/director in his thirties/forties, called Daniel Kitson.

Working with Daniel Kitson is a real treat. Hugely talented and odd-looking, he is, primarily, a disciplinarian. Like an old-school piano teacher, he carries an eating fork and if I ever get a line wrong or inflect my voice imprecisely, he strikes me hard on the back of the hand with the fork and pushes his face right up against mine. It’s high pressure. But it gets results. Constantly in my grill, like Hitchcock, he’ll yell “Volume” if I’m undercooking it and if I’m doing a speech badly he’ll yell “Wanker” and I’ll feel his eating fork or a ladle fly past my nose. Tough in rehearsals, it’s been a nightmare in the performances.

He’s carrot as much as he is stick, however. If I produce a particularly sensible piece of blocking or I bring a prop in that we can use in the show, he will immediately high-five me or give me a whole loaf of Jamaican Ginger Cake. He’s that kind of boss. He knows what he wants, sure. And he’ll physically smash my hands to pieces to get it. But at the same time, he isn’t an arsehole. And during the rehearsal process he was relaxed and good fun to be around. In the afternoons he would take his top off and I had to, too. And we’d line-run in his garden, in the cold, often until it was dark.

I haven’t really worked on too many plays over the years. I focus on other arts; radio documentaries, the movies, ads, so I don’t know how other writer/directors work. I imagine there are some that just let you get on with it, renting the cast a dormitory, fuzzing in shitloads of alcohol and copies of the script, locking the door and coming back five weeks later, slapping them in costumes and putting them on the stage. I have a friend who studied at Rada and he said he worked once with a man who believed that all of the actors should learn all of the parts and should say them all at the same time, no matter how brutal the audience reaction became.

Our process has been very involved. We like to know the script inside out and we went on various field trips in order to get under its skin. In this play, for example, one of the characters mentions a rat and so we went to a zoo to observe a rat. “The audience knows,” was Daniel Kitson’s point. “They know if you’re just saying the word rat.” By the same token, I gained work experience as a Civil Rights lawyer and Daniel Kitson put me through a wood-chipping machine. Now, when I utter these words, I feel they are laced with my experiences, and the audience gasps.

We’ve been working ‘in the round’ these past two weeks at Manchester’s beautiful Royal Exchange. If you don’t know what that means, it’s where the audience sits in a big circle. They can watch what’s going on or, if they prefer, they can observe the audience members opposite, depending on whether they are more into art or real-life. It’s a challenge for an actor. When you’re working in the round, you have to give everyone a fair chance to see all of your body and I find myself constantly spinning round in the middle to give all of the blurred faces a fair crack at seeing my facial expressions and thighs. It’s dizzying, yes, but we’re almost done now.

Our run is all but over, and it’s been a blast. I’ve got on great with the cast and have enjoyed riding Manchester’s trams and canals. Mostly, I’ve enjoyed working with the writer/director. A charismatic, exacting and often combustible man, he’s kept me on my toes and kept me honest. And he’s given me a thirst for this kind of shit, which I look forward to slaking when the right script next comes along.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all