The cult comics spellbinding New York show brought powerful memories flooding back to our expat correspondent but its appeal is universal
There are some Christmas traditions in the UK that you just cant do in the US. Or in most places outside the UK.
Watching Coronation Street (its a soap opera) is one. Eating Quality Street (they are chocolates) is another. Getting drunk with your high school friends in a pub (Im going to stop this now) is another.
You get the idea. The nostalgia, the vague sense of longing, the very definitely rose-tinted glasses.
Its nice then, that the cult comedian Daniel Kitson is performing in the US. Specifically in New York. Because watching him on Friday night somehow seemed to sate all of those feelings.
His Christmas show is called quite brilliantly, as he puts it A Show for Christmas. Its a story about a woman who meets a man who (spoiler warning) may or may not be Father Christmas.
The show begins with Kitson standing in front of the audience. He launches into the story before youve even noticed it has begun. As he tells the story he climbs up onto the stage and starts to get changed into some clothes that he pulls out of a rucksack. It feels very British. Its modest and low-key and understated. Its like a cup of tea and a KitKat.
Kitson moves some Christmas trees around the stage before sitting down to read a long story from a book. That, essentially, is the show.
In other settings, watching a man read from a notebook for an hour might feel pretentious. With Kitson, it somehow feels earthy and real. At the end of the show he asks the audience to take their trash with them, as he is one of the people who has to clean the theatre at the end of the night. Whether or not that is true, you can imagine him doing it.
That is part of Kitsons charm. He is anti-celebrity. He is known for eschewing publicity. He doesnt do interviews, doesnt give out free tickets to critics. He writes emails to fans himself.
It would be problematic if he werent any good. But he is. The Connolly Theater, in Manhattans East Village, is sold out on each of the 10 nights he is performing. On the night I was there, the audience included John Oliver, British host of Last Week Tonight on HBO.
But it was far from being a British-only audience. Kitson has been performing in the US for around 10 years. His appeal seems universal.
To those in the audience who are British, though, watching Kitson is like being transported back to the UK. There are references to petrol stations and motorways. Theres a car named after Margaret Thatcher: Because it veers to the right. And theres Kitson himself, with his thick Yorkshire accent, thick glasses, thick beard and bobble hat perched on the top of his head.
For someone from the north of England albeit from Lancashire, which fought a series of medieval-era, but still often invoked, wars against Yorkshire the nostalgia feels particularly acute. Its like eating a meat and potato pie, or ordering a barm cake, or seeing an old man wearing a flat cap while drinking a pint of mild.
At one point, Kitson acknowledges the cultural mix of his audience. After using a series of British English terms, he says that other performers might have adapted these references for an American audience. But not him. Im an artist, he says. Rather than remove his British-specific references, he keeps them in and offers translations for the non-Brits in attendance.
It could be a metaphor for the show. Its a very British, understated story, told in a very British, understated way. Its as if Kitson is translating a British Christmas experience for an international audience. And its great.