Edinburgh review: Daniel Kitson: Mouse – The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought (Traverse Theatre)

Daniel Kitson returns to the Fringe with a show about friendship and how impossible it is to find people like us

Daniel Kitson: Mouse – The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought
Daniel Kitson: Mouse – The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought

A phone rings in a warehouse. When William answers it, it’s like he’s having a phone conversation with himself: the man on the other end has the same voice and thinks he’s calling his own lost phone. A testy argument turns into a night-long conversation; William tells the stranger, a man named Billy, about the story he’s been writing for the last 12 years. It’s a story about a woman who makes friends with a sad mouse.

The latest play from comedian-writer-performer Daniel Kitson, Mouse is a typically multi-layered, hugely engaging piece that asks questions about the inevitably of the way our lives go; about friendship and solitude and the impossibility of finding people who are like us. It’s also about fiction itself: the way it makes the impossible happen.

Interspersed with the phone chat are flashback sequences – Kitson describing moments from the last 12 years of William’s life. In his typically perceptive, dryly witty storytelling fashion, he paints a tragi-comic portrait of a man going through his thirties and slowly losing his friends. Pals move away, or get terrible boyfriends. Work colleagues are awful. There’s comedy in watching this pedantic, picky, cynical man repeatedly committing social suicide, but sadness too.

Back to William and Billy, where Kitson’s dialogue combines gorgeous turns of phrase, daft comedy riffs, and more profound digs into human psyche. They discuss whether a life is a series of individually unimportant, incremental decisions, or if it turns on key moments. Billy helps William with his story, finding the exact description for the feeling the woman has when she begins to communicate with the mouse: it’s like love, the simultaneous knowledge that "this is absolutely impossible" and "this is happening".

Slowly, their conversation becomes punctuated by weird coincidences and synchronicities. They keep "jinxing" each other, speaking at the same time; they’re the same age; there’s the voice. When Billy puts the kettle on, William’s boils. This is impossible, they think; but it’s happening.

Mouse is a more technically impressive performance than Kitson makes it seem: he must hit every line perfectly to keep in sync with the pre-recorded tape, while making it sound like a perfectly natural, spontaneous conversation. This is pulled off effortlessly. By contrast, in the backstory sections, he is constantly slipping up, forgetting his place, even asking us which bit he did last. The audience laps that stuff up of course, the comedian’s way of including you. Maybe Kitson really did reorder the show just before opening and is still polishing it, but it feels more like a tactic: both getting an audience on side and reminding us of the fiction-ness of this story about someone writing a story…

Kitson has won a huge following for tucking a comedian’s laugh-rate inside moving stories of human frailty, served through some fiendish technical conceit or formal invention. Mouse delivers on all three, a well-sprung trap of a show that draws you in and snaps shut in a hugely satisfying fashion.

Daniel Kitson: Mouse – The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought runs at the Traverse Theatre until 28 August (except 15 and 22)

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