Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: 'The Marriage of Kim K' at the Arcola Theatre, 25th July 2017


The Marriage of Kim K reviewed by David James

Rating: 3 Stars

Even after all these years, the sacrilegious thrill of mashing up high and low culture gives me happy little tingles. Nothing gets my goat quite like people snootily dismissing something because it doesn't fit their rarified opinion of what music, theatre, film or art should consist of. 

In the best case scenario you dive into trash and come up clutching diamonds, as I did when I went to see Miley Cyrus perform her jawdropping Bangerz tour. On the other hand, you can just come up with a fistful of trash. For example, I was briefly convinced that Michael Bay's Transformers films were secretly genius subversive satires, but on closer inspection well, they weren't.

And so to The Marriage of Kim K, a musical by Leo Mercer (known as leoemercer) and Stephen Hyde that fuses Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro with Keeping Up With The Kardashians. We approach this through the framing device of Beth (Amelia Gabriel) and Mo (Stephen Hyde - also the show's composer), a young married couple arguing about what to watch on TV. Beth, a young lawyer, just wants to relax her mind for a bit with Kim and company, while struggling songwriter Mo turns his nose up and demands to watch televised opera. 

On stage right are Kim Kardashian (Yasemine Mireille) and her (temporary) husband Kris Humphries (James Edge). Recently married in a blaze of publicity, the pair quickly realising that this may have been an awful mistake. Kris is a preening, jockish lunkhead who treats his new wife like an inflatable doll, while Kim is increasingly peeved at the way he disregards her feelings. On top of that, she's receiving calls from a lovelorn Kanye West...

Meanwhile, on stage right, excerpts from The Marriage of Figaro play out. In full period costume and slathered in stage makeup, Count Almaviva (Nathan Bellis) and the Countess (Emily Burnett) emerge, initially singing in Italian but soon in English (Beth demands the subtitles be switched on). Camp, highly strung and vaguely clownish, the pair as impressive vocally as they are comedically.

With Beth and Mo's creaky marriage literally at the centre of the piece, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and The Marriage of Figaro become two equally valid prisms to examine their problems through. When Beth identifies with Kim and Mo with the Count, we not only get insights into their individual personalities but into the social archetypes the pair represent. Beth is every brainy woman who feels judged for leafing through Hello when they're bored and Mo's the kind of dude who craves being seen as culturally literate, intellectual (probably while wearing a turtleneck).

This is all conveyed through genuinely neat wordplay and music. The Kardashian side of the stage is pop-inflected and the Figaro side pretty much traditional opera (with a bit more swearing than usual). As we near the end three stories and become increasingly intertwined and the cross-cutting becomes more rapid, melding each musical element into an effective high/low culture symphony.

It's an outright impressive feat of musical writing, with Faux and Mercer managing to keep everything balanced as they essentially tell three stories at once. Performative highlights are James Edge's wonderfully boneheaded Kris, who flexes and peacocks his way around the stage to great effect, Nathan Bellis's Count, possessed of an admirably expressive rubberface and Amelia Gabriel's Beth, who emotionally anchors the show.

Unfortunately, even though the ointment is damn fine, there are still a couple of flies to be found. Least egregious is that Mo is maybe a bit too much of a twat - I found myself rooting for Beth to ditch this stuffy failure and strike out on her own (but maybe this is the point). 

Somewhat worse is that the show doesn't work well with the Arcola's thrust staging.  I was way off to one side, and the triptych stage design meant that half of the characters were obscured at all times. On top of that, the sound mixing wasn't particularly great and a lot of (what I'm assuming were) clever lyrics were lost in an aural fuzz.

The Marriage of Kim K is clearly a great show but I'm not sure the Arcola has the right seating layout to properly stage it - if you do go, avoid sitting to the extreme left or right of the stage. But it's still refreshing to see something so resolutely unstuffy and playful, going so far as to successfully align the antics of Kim Kardashian with one of Mozart's finest operas. If I had a chance to see it at a better angle, I'd leap at the chance.

The Marriage of Kim K is at the Arcola until 29 July, then on tour. Details here.

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