Daniel Kitson: The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Thursday, May 26
I KNEW Daniel Kitson was meant to be good. After all, he was voted “best British stand-up of all time” by fellow comedians in Dave’s Census of Humour earlier this year. So I kind of expected to be blown away by him - and when I was, it wasn’t a complete surprise. But that didn’t make the experience of being blown away any less exhilarating, life-enhancing or uplifting - with the left field addition of also being incredibly touching.
The show Kitson is currently touring isn’t ‘stand-up’ as such. It’s actually what he describes as a “story show”, delving into the life of the character Gregory Church, from his decision to end his life after redundancy in the early ‘80s until his eventual death more than 20 years later. The tale was told through Kitson’s discovery of 30,000 letters sent and received by the retired and isolated Church, cataloguing the unsolicited salvation found in the replies to his 50-odd suicide notes (“he never expected anyone to write back”) and his slow return to life through the ongoing correspondence which continued through the years.
Starting the tale with “this bit is true” meant that although the audience was fully aware that it was entirely a product of Kitson’s detailed and ordered imagination, it was unclear where the truth becomes fiction and the “story” actually started, resulting in a deeper emotional investment in Church and the recipients of his letters. There was a collective sense of sadness when his long-term sparring partner, the local newspaper editor, passed away, and a frisson of hope for romance, which came to nothing, for, as Kitson says, an account of someone’s life does not have the satisfactory resolutions of a book or a film.
Kitson’s compelling delivery was unfettered by his occasional stutter (“if it bothers you in any way... you are a bigot”), while his easy distraction made for unplanned moments, both amusing and awkward. To see him giggling at the illusionary bend in his glass of water was a delight, but microphone problems and the crinkle of a sweet packet in the audience showed that for Kitson, the intensity of performance can be a challenge. However, each situation was overcome with politeness and charm, and we were quickly delved back into the absorbing tale. This was a show that revealed much about the lives of two most interesting characters - Gregory Church, and his fascinating, complex and delightful creator, Daniel Kitson.
* First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, June 2, 2011