Saturday, August 13, 2016

Two Kittens and a Kid (The Space on the Mile, Edinburgh Fringe)

Story is all. You can have all the flash-bang-wallop of a West End jukebox musical, or the lavish art design and pomp of a grand opera, but without an engaging story to tell, you have nothing.

And boy, does Christopher Wilson's intensely personal and moving Two Kittens and a Kid have a humdinger of a story, made all the more affecting because it is absolutely true. These things happened to him, and their legacy goes on. How Wilson manages to perform this show day in, day out is astounding. Two Kittens and a Kid (A Gay Man Raising His Inner Diva) is obviously his catharsis, and he scoops up the audience on a truly rollercoaster ride along the way.

So what is this story about? It would be unfair to give too much away, as it is the way the audience is drawn into Wilson's experiences that makes the ending all the more powerful. It's best not to know in advance how this show ends, as it would most definitely lose its strength, but it wouldn't be worth seeing (or writing a show about) if there weren't heartache and tragedy.

Wilson tells the story of how, as a white gay man, he became the foster parent for a ten-year-old black girl whose real parents were drug addicts. He battled the system to foster Kidlet (his pet name for his daughter, who remains understandably anonymous) and moves through the trials and horrors of being a white dad to a black girl. This is above all a story about how hard it is to be a parent, never mind a gay parent, and anybody who's ever been a child or had a child can relate.

Wilson negotiates his way through the baffling tribulations of having black hair and skin, and how white people have no comprehension of how difficult it can be to control it and care for it. It is a world of shea butter and moisturiser, "ashy skin" and cornrows. The clash of cultures is also addressed when Wilson relates his utter horror at hearing the word "nigger" on his daughter's lips, but this leads to a beautiful digression where Wilson educates the audience about the origins of the word, both etymologically and culturally, and you end up learning so much about a word you would never dare Google.

Kidlet reaches that age which every parent of a daughter will have etched on their memories - menstruation! How does any man, let alone a gay one, adequately navigate the delicate journey a pubescent girl has to take when he has next to no personal experience of menstruation himself? Gay men rarely come into contact with lady parts at the best of times, and Wilson rather charmingly relates his personal journey of going to the library to find a book on the subject, only to find Kidlet has already read it and is clued up on everything she needs to know!

There's also the moment when his daughter discovers boys, and the protective side of being a parent kicks in hard and fast, but sexual attraction is an inescapable part of self-discovery, and Wilson wisely acknowledges that, although he does make the amusing observation that he'd rather his daughter was gay than fool around with boys!

And then the story takes a turn. Gone are the amusing growing pains anecdotes and in comes the reality of bringing up a teenager scarred by her past. Kidlet is in foster care for a reason, and it all starts to unravel as she matures. What happens next comes at you like a slow-motion fist. You can guess what's coming, but because you've been investing yourself in this story and these people for the last 40 minutes, you daren't believe it. You hope Wilson will have a happy ending, or a belly-laugh twist. But he doesn't. And the truth hurts, it tears into your chest and rips your heart out with its teeth. This is no fairytale, there is no happy ending. It may be open-ended - the story continues - but Wilson sadly cannot relate where that story is going.

This entire show is populated by cabaret songs throughout. The nature of the story may not automatically lend itself to show tunes, but it works, because first of all Wilson is a damn fine singer, but also, sometimes the very darkest tales are given fluffy edges. Take any of the very best Disney films - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, Toy Story - and they are, in part, terrifyingly dark and adult. People are murdered, children lose parents, monsters can hurt you. These Disney classics are always sprinkled with catchy numbers which add light to the darkness, and I think this juxtaposition of theme and presentation works well for Two Kittens and a Kid. Granted, Wilson's story is no fairytale, but it very much could be, telling as it does the story of a young girl who has mountains to climb and demons to slay.

The audience was universally moved, some to tears, by this show. It is an astonishingly honest autobiographical one-man cabaret show which includes the audience by reaching out emotionally rather than with interaction. The story speaks for itself, and that story is king (or should that be queen?). It's Jackanory, warts 'n' all.

The stats
Written and performed by: Christopher Wilson
Director: Ryan Kelly
Performed at The Space on the Mile Space 2, Edinburgh, August 5th to 20th, 2016. Performance reviewed August 12th, 2016

Two Kittens and a Kid website (retrieved Aug 12 2016)
Two Kittens and a Kid trailer (retrieved Aug 12 2016)

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