Daniel Kitson has a reputation as one of the best (if slightly obscure) comedians in the country. He refuses to go along with what everyone else does, shunning social media, panel shows and arena tours in favour of small, intimate performances, announced with little fanfare. With Analog.Ue, he goes a step further: here, we have a show where Kitson remains silent for the entire duration. 95 minutes of a prerecorded performance, played out using 46 analogue tape machines. Sounds strange? It certainly is – but that doesn’t stop it from being excellent.
Analog.Ue tells three intertwining stories. One is that of a 70 year old man, struggling to fulfil his wife’s request to record his thoughts, experiences and life story in an effort to leave some sort of legacy. One is that of a 40 year old woman, struggling with her dull job and her dull life, with only a small glimmer of hope keeping her going each day. One is that of a 36 year old comedian, struggling to write a story for a play that’s opening in a couple of weeks at the National Theatre. The latter tale isn’t fictional: it’s a continuing narration from Kitson, who intriguingly explains the process of how the play was made. This meta-commentary leads to a heartwarming message; one that is surprisingly thought provoking, leading to the play’s many pieces neatly falling into place.
Kitson’s storytelling abilities are superb: he tells tales of love without telling a love story, he turns relatively inane pieces of daily life into hilarious moments and his eloquence and unique approach to swearing adds a comical yet touching twang to every second of the play. The stories weave and wind around each other, interlocking whilst remaining separate and mirroring each other beautifully. There’s also another sort of story taking place: throughout the show, Kitson wanders around the stage, setting up the machines for the next chapter of the tale. He’s oddly captivating to watch, and the whole process is relatively tense: the knowledge that these are real, ancient machines – that could (and, at times, do) malfunction at any point – means there’s always a nervous moment at the beginning of each chapter, where the audience holds their breath just in case something goes wrong. This is just one example of the unique atmosphere that Kitson’s ‘gimmick’ manages to create. There’s something very special about analogue media: their warmth, the way in which each machine sounds slightly different…Kitson has embraced and capitalised upon this to great extent.
Although the play isn’t perfect (one plot point is both too buried and too clichéd for my liking), it certainly is a tour de force, challenging our expectations of both theatre and comedy. Kitson has successfully created a comedy show in which he does not speak, and by pushing the boat out into uncharted waters he has managed to tap into something very special indeed: turning what could have been a dull and mundane gimmick into a crucial and clever part of a fascinating story.