It's Always Right Now Until It's Later (Daniel Kitson, BAC/Traverse) ****
Danton's Death (National Theatre) **
Daniel Kitson is the master of coaxing the most out of something so tiny that after an hour and a half in his company, you feel you'll be able to spot something idiosyncratic or beautiful in the tiniest thing you pass. It's Always Right Now... is typical Kitson fare these days, to be honest, and if you've seen any of his more recent material this will have a familiar ring to it. But that doesn't detract from it in the slightest. The night I went was the final preview night at the Battersea Arts Centre, before he transferred to the Traverse in Edinburgh for a (more expensive!) run which is currently in progress. He warned that it might be slightly shambolic, which is was at times, but not in a bad way. Kitson remains incredibly nervous, and was easily put off by shuffles in the audience; eventually this developed into a full-blown heckle from some bell-end sat next to me. As I pointed out to him afterwards, Daniel Kitson hasn't done stand-up since about 2004 (his complaint) but (as the knobwhiff found out) he is possibly the greatest exponent of putting down heckles in the world. The turbomong was duly despatched with, with savage efficacy.
Back to the show. Kitson tells the tale of two lives, independent of one another, in fleeting moments: falling off a bike, or a moment on a bus. It's loose and sprawling, but the tenderness with which he spins his yarns, and acute social observations, make it an utterly compelling 90 minutes. I emerged wide-eyed and inspired to look for more beauty in the mundane: if Kitson has a message, it is that all our lives are extraordinary. Which is an inspiring thought in itself.
Donmar Warehouse director Michael Grandage has been exalted to near-legendary status in recent years with some brilliant productions: I can vouch that his Othello with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan MacGregor, Hamlet with Jude Law, Ivanov with Kenneth Branagh and Twelfth Night with Derek Jacobi were all superb.
With Danton's Death, however, Grandage hits a massive dud. It is a lengthy French Revolution saga which is completely one-dimensional (lots of shouting) and linear (brave revolutionaries jockey for position and make "inspiring" speeches, ad infinitum). Toby Stephens as Danton is completely indistinguishable from the rest of the cast, and the only memorable feature, a nice guillotining gimmick at the end, only goes a small way to recouping the time wasted in seeing this show. Avoid.