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Monday, 24 August 2009

In Edinburgh? Good, in that case I recommend...

The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church
by Daniel Kitson.

'Gregory had fifty seven letters to write. He'd never written that many letters, not in one go. In fact, he'd never written a single letter and it was taking significantly longer than he'd anticipated. He'd started, full of optimism, curiously enough, at 9 am and now here he was 8 hours later half way through letter twenty four. He glanced at his watch and then at the noose hanging over his head.

Gregory sighed.

Had he known how long suicide letters take, he thought, he wouldn't have cancelled the milk for the morning.

A story of death postponed by life.'

... I've always liked stories, particularly a certain type of story. Stories like those from my childhood copy of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, or One Thousand and One Nights and the Chinese folk-tales in my 12 volume hardback edition of Chinese folk-tales for children. At some point though these stories gave way to novels (one of the earliest novels I read and loved was Jean-Christophe by Romain Rolland, can you believe it?), but I really never stopped liking stories of the other variety. It's difficult to define just what's so different between a novel and what I consider to be a 'story' and really, the boundaries are ill-defined, but I know a 'story' when I see one.

Daniel Kitson is undoubtedly a fine story-teller and I was mildly surprised when I saw him for the first time recently in Regents Park, performing the first in a series of three Stories for the Starlit Sky. I had been told that he's a stand-up comedian and I expected something of a cross between male-confession, airing of dirty laundry, whacky sound effects that some humans seem to be able to accomplish with the aid of a microphone, maybe political commentary (if I'm lucky) and maybe self-pity or out-right whinging (if I'm unlucky). Instead I was treated to a story about love. Yes, that's right, a love story.

Does that sound horribly naive and/or passe to you? But since when did love go out of fashion? (around the same time that SEX came into fashion? surely not).

The story I heard that night in Regents Park was a story of bittersweet unrequited love - that and many secret passions and acts of love - of the grand variety (Taj Mahal) and of the lesser, more mundane variety (watching a lover as he/she sleeps). Whatever the kind of love or acts of love, however, it was Kitson's ability to bring out the extraordinariness of ordinary lives through his particular brand of enthusiasm, extremely rapid speech, and the combination of resignation, amusement, and exasperation in his narration that made this story stay with me for a long time. Oh, and the fact that it was simply a GOOD story, the kind that makes no beans about being clever or complicated or post-modern or any of that crap but simply stands out for being a well-constructed, neatly-polished, and expertly-delivered story.

So I was particularly interested in seeing him again in the Edinburgh Fringe since I didn't have tickets to the remainder of his three Stories in London. I managed to book four tickets for The Interminable Suicide and I went there with Richard, Iain and Danuta. I'm happy to report that we all walked away chattering happily about how much we had enjoyed the show. So, if you happen to be around right now, go for it, get yourself a ticket.

I hope that some time in the near future Kitson will consider releasing his material in the form of video/audio recording or better yet, as a collection of stories in book format. I know it sounds really 4th grade to say that I learned something from a story but honest to God I feel like I did. It's very rare for me (the big-head pretentious pseudo-intellectual that I am) to go away from a night's entertainment now feeling like I've really gotten something out of it that I can take away with me and keep warm with, but this happened on both occasions when I've seen Kitson. And you know, recently some friends of mine, for various reasons, have been going through difficult times. I often think that hearing these stories would do them good and sometimes I draw a little bit of comparison by telling them a part of the story and it seems to cheer them up. But of course my personal rendition is woefully inadequate and I wish I could buy my friends copies of Kitson stories as Christmas present instead.

Did I mention how much I like stories?