There’s something particularly magical and evocative about stories set at Christmas. Whether it’s the work of Charles Dickens, the ghost stories of M.R. James, Doctor Who‘s festive outings, or anything in between – the snow, Christmas trees and spirit of giving help to conjure vivid ideas of late December and all the joys (and, in the case of James, fears) that come with it.
These seasonal ingredients, along with Santa Claus, were firmly in place in Daniel Kitson‘s A Show For Christmas, though this elegantly crafted story wasn’t quite as traditional as you might imagine. Kitson, who has long cemented his place as perhaps the most revered stand-up and storyteller on the British circuit, first performed the show during a run at Battersea Arts Centre in December 2014, and has since taken it Stateside for a run in New York, but this month marks the first time he’s toured it around the UK, including a stop at Leicester’s Y Theatre.
Key tenets of Kitson’s story shows are heartwarming yet thought-provoking yarns, and A Show For Christmas continued in similar vein, examining the traditions we observe at Christmas time along with the possible reasons which underpin them, and why they might be created and popularised in the first place. Through bewitching prose read by Kitson himself, and recordings of voicemail messages which helped to shape and convey the timeline of the story, we followed Polly Plunkett on her attempt to get visit her family home on Christmas Eve.
In a charming and touching narrative, Polly’s journey was accompanied by pensioner Nicholas after a minor accident, and the main thrust of the tale stemmed from the interactions between weary but nostalgic Polly and her cynical travel companion. These conversations were a perfect vehicle for Kitson’s brilliant knack for dialogue, as well as for imbuing proceedings with just the right amount of both festive joie de vivre and grinch-like naysaying.
For over 90 minutes, the show unfolded at a careful pace, packed with joyous gags, observations and commentary, with even throwaway turns of phrase like referring to the time for a warming beverage as “hot chocolate o’clockolate” met with huge laughs. A masterful writer and storyteller, Kitson has concocted a beautifully warm and funny piece which gradually reveals itself over the course of its running time, with later beats adding real emotional weight to the quirky, off-kilter wonder of this tender comic fiction.