The doors have opened on Northern Stage’s adventure at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as they take over St Stephens Church. Bringing an eclectic mix of shows from artists and companies based within the north of England, the excitement around the work is palpable. Me and Mr C, performed by Gary Kitching, brings an improvised comedy complete with three foot ventriloquist dummy who just can’t get enough of power ballads.
I’ve always been weary of improvised shows, never quite taking to previous shows and always questioning why improvisation leads to laughter, the easiest of reactions to sink yourself into. Yet Kitching’s Me and Mr C, whilst hilarious, relies distinctly upon the subtle undertones of sadness that run throughout the show. Kitching (‘Me’), attempting to get over a recent break up, takes to stand up comedy like a duck takes to oil. Lifeless and limp, the heckles that greet him knock back his smile. He returns home to find Mr C sitting in his dummy-like way listening to power ballads and staring aimlessly, refusing to speak. After several attempts at comedy he confides in a doctor who offers him advice, before taking to the stage one last time, with Mr C in hand and a damning verdict: Me, your life sucks.
Whilst the structure of Me and Mr C seems to be set, the improvised nature of the production means that the audience have a say in the sort of direction the show drifts in. On the night I saw it, we had suggestions for jobs, advice to be given and personal objects were used. These offerings form some of the development of the piece, or offer substance for Kitching to work with in his narrative. It means that as an audience we feel connected to the work, and laugh all the more. We’re even taught how to heckle, as Me and Mr C demands that the audience bring down the failed comedian, which in itself produces some curious ideas. As an audience we want to support and encourage the work, but we are directed to do the exactly opposite: we hurl abuse, boo and shout for Kitching to leave the stage. It makes the turning of the story even more poignant as we sit silenced by the text instead of heckling.
Me and Mr C sits somewhere between comedy and improvisation. It is warming in its portrayal of a man trying to survive, but also slightly tragic too. Where we laugh one moment, it seems to fade as we feel the guilt that follows, making this a poignant piece of work.
*** – 3/5 Stars
Me and Mr C is playing at St Stephens until 27 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.