Stories For The Wobbly-Hearted by Daniel Kitson
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2005
"Stories of heroic loneliness, optimistic sadness and broken love. told by lamp light."
You don’t have to look too far to see what gave Daniel Kitson, the avowed loner and misanthrope, inspiration for the characters at the centre of his Stories For The Wobbly Hearted.
Take, for instance, the tale of Morris the busker who faces the wall, sets down strict rules for the enjoyment of his performance and deliberately spurns popularity. Could ‘Morris’ be related to the stand-up comedian who cancelled his guaranteed sell-out weekend gigs at The Stand because he didn’t like the sort of audience he might attract?
This is just one of a handful of characters, few far away from Kitson’s own persona, in this show exploring loneliness – a state which, he argues, doesn’t deserve pity because it’s heroic.
Yet all his characters are desperate to end their solitude; not by meeting lots of new people, but meeting just The One – even if that may be an impossible dream, especially given the obstacles they put in the way to weed out the unsuitable. That’s the problem with wanting to be heroic: heroes are so often tragic figures.
There’s a flip side of the coin, too, only briefly touched upon, when Kitson talks of a loner claiming to make solitude his choice, wanting to be seen as a melancholy misanthrope rather than someone who has no friends. The truth may be a lot more prosaic that the mighty ideals.
But it’s the noble notions Kitson wants to promote. His protagonists are always portryed as hopeless romantics, whether it’s Poppy leaving clues for the ideal suitor or the man, depicted in a short film, who goes to ridiculous lengths for even the briefest, most casual of contacts with a woman he worships from afar.
The show is stages as proper theatre. It’s in that section of the Fringe programme and is properly staged with Kitson in a comfy, battered armchair looking twice his age and a bit like a latter-day Cyril Fletcher, surrounded by table lamps and gramophones.
The tales are as winsome as they are whimsical. Some are a touch predictable in their outcome, and a couple outstay their welcome. The last one, especially, could almost have been curtailed on the point of revelation.
His comedy roots still show, and the stories never quite sparkle as much as when they sound most like his stand-up at its most vulnerable or obscure. Poppy making distinctions between a snooze and a sleep, for example, would fit easily into a routine.
Kitson’s love of imaginative language also reflects his desire for an idealised, more artistic past, although some of his allusions don’t quite achieve his lofty literary ambitions.
Quite how this would play among pure, impartial theatre-goers unaware of Kitson’s stand-up accomplishments is hard to tell. For despite his steps to deter a fan base, I suspect most those in the Traverse have come because they know his previous work.
And they will certainly leave with enough touching, heartstring-tugging ruminations on the nature of loneliness and romance to feed the poetic soul. Go and see it, but not alone - with someone you love.