Polyphony (5 stars)

This article is from 2015


Structurally perfect yet endearingly chaotic show from Daniel Kitson

Daniel Kitson is possibly one of the most important artists working in British theatre. Having successfully negotiated the gap between stand-up comedy and experimental theatre, Kitson’s latest play takes fragments from his previous Edinburgh show and works them into a formally challenging, hilarious and fiercely intelligent work of post-visual theatre.

Using several iPods attached to speakers, and slowly working out the story of an old, lonely man and his mysterious discoveries, Kitson sets himself at the centre of both the stage and the action. Somewhere beneath the self-deprecating wit, the plotted arguments with the audience – who express Kitson’s own self-doubt – he discusses isolation, the fear of growing old and the tensions in the nature of live performance: either as a satire on the theatre, or an updating of Samuel Beckett’s musings on mortality, Polyphony is a solo monologue of remarkable density and poetical power.

But as Kitson points out to a heckler, emphasis on the plot is a reductive way of looking at theatre. The pleasure lies in Kitson’s easy way with the audience – he is capable of turning technical failures into triumphs of improvised humour – and the various rambles around the subject. In quick succession, he reveals his pessimistic vision of life (it is hard, everyone dies alone) and romantic love (it’s like kicking a can down the street: a distraction, but it is going to end). These digressions, however, provide a context to his eventual burst of serious storytelling.

Kitson constantly second-guesses the audience, taking swipes at himself and almost apologising for his past aggression. Polyphony shows how performance can be built on so little, be dark and doubting yet witty and fun, dismissive of emotions yet compassionate, apparently simple with hidden depths, revealing an obvious ending through a dramatic finale, expressing itself like life itself.

Roundabout @ Summerhall, 560 1581, until 29 Aug (not 18, 25), 12.15pm, £12.


  • 5 stars

A new play from Daniel Kitson, in which the audience are given iPods to contribute to the performance and Kitson himself reacts to the action that takes place.