Kim Kardashian and opera – an unlikely pairing. But ‘The Marriage of Kim K.’ uses it to surprisingly good effect in an amusing and original exploration of celebrity and the disintegration of relationships.
On one side of the stage we follow the antics of the glamorous Kim Kardashian. When she’s not busy devising YouTube make-up tutorials, she is enjoying the amorous attentions of one-track-mind basketball player, Kris Humphries. Initially, at least. It doesn’t take long for ‘enjoying’ to become ‘tolerating’ and then ‘resisting’. 72 days, in fact. By that time, boredom has fully set in, Kim is seduced into an affair with Kanye West (who, sadly, we never get to meet), and Kris is out on his ear.
On the other side of the stage, we see an 18th century parallel. Initially, this is sung in the original Italian, so I can only surmise what’s happening, but it’s pretty clear that all is not well. Gradually we gather that Mozart’s Count is becoming similarly bored with his Countess and seeking distractions elsewhere, much to the lady’s indignation and distress.
Meanwhile, a ‘normal’ contemporary couple sit on a central sofa, and – Gogglebox-style – we watch them as they watch these scenarios playing out ‘on television’. Lawyer Amelia and writer Steve have their own stresses and communication difficulties, and these end up being articulated through arguments about their television preferences; celebrity-watching versus high culture.
In a nicely ironic climax, Amelia and Steve drift into the spaces previously occupied by our two celebrity couples and the watched become the watchers …
The whole piece is ingeniously conceived by writer Leo Mercer with actor/director Stephen Hyde. The parallel stories work really well when they are conducted sequentially but when they overlap it all becomes a bit of a visual and aural assault and it feels like clarity is being sacrificed to cleverness. (This may, of course, be intended as a metaphor for the multi-tasking nature of contemporary culture, in which case it’s fairly devastating.)
The messages in this production are serious ones – our fascination with celebrity, the timeless challenges of sustaining a relationship amidst all the stresses and temptations. The medium, however, is fun, and often very silly (in a good way). Some of the characterisation is delightfully OTT – especially the raunchy Kris Humphries, played with great gusto by James Edge. And standing out from all the comedic caricature around her, Amelia Gabriel gives an astonishingly authentic performance as her namesake, showing genuine emotional range and depth.
It’s a remarkably ambitious enterprise to set the story to a musical score. The singing is variable – sometimes beautiful, sometimes too shouty for my ears – but all very ably directed by Sam Davies and supported by the excellent ‘Echo Chamber’ string quartet.
‘The Marriage of Kim K.’ may not be the most polished production but it has energy and passion and feels like a true labour of love. The set and costumes are meticulously designed by Alexander Newton and even the programme is a creative contribution in its own right. And it’s icing on the cake to discover that ‘Amelia’ and ‘Steve’ are actually a ‘real couple’ (which may account for the ending!)