Manchester Theatre Awards

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The Marriage of Kim K (The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)

Leo Mercer and Stephen Hyde adapted from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro
Leoe & Hyde Ltd
53Two, Manchester
03 July 2017 to 17 July 2017

In an early routine comedian Mark Thomas opened with the heartfelt cry of ‘What are they talking about in opera?’ Many people share this frustration while others are baffled by the attraction of Reality TV stars such as Kim Kardashian who married basketball player Kris Humphries in a media circus only to dump him 72 days later. Librettist Leo Mercer and Stephen Hyde (who wrote the score) use this fiasco as the basis for their audacious adaptation of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro that examines the extent to which it is possible to reconcile high and low culture. But there is so much more to it than that….

As if inspired by Realty TV (in which alleged ‘real’ people work to a partial script) The Marriage of Kim K blurs the boundaries between reality and fiction. Composer Stephen Hyde plays a composer named ,er, Stephen Hyde who is writing an opera but having no luck securing the interest of a producer. He is such an opera snob that he prefers opera without subtitles while admitting he hasn’t the foggiest idea what is happening and is in a relationship with Amelia Gabriel (played by Amelia Gabriel who is Stephen Hyde’s real-life partner). Amelia likes to unwind by watching The Kardashians although she admits to buying products she does not need.

Ambitiously the musical contrasts the shallow relationship between Kardashian and Humphries with the domestic drama of Hyde and Gabriel and the grand passion of Mozart’s opera. As most of the dialogue is sung and there are excerpts from Mozart’s opera there is a constant musical background that raises Stephen and Amelia’s arguments to operatic status. But there is the worrying sense that their disagreements about TV programmes may hide more significant deeper divisions between them and that Mozart’s characters may be being influenced by The Kardashians.  

The ambition of The Marriage of Kim K is breathtaking. Rather than rely on recorded music the score is played live by the Echo Chamber string quartet and there are different musical styles for each of the three settings. Instead of the cast miming to recordings Emily Burnett and Nathan Bells, in full costume, sing excerpts from Mozart’s opera. Such attention to detail and quality is rare in fringe productions and adds to the sense that this show is exceptional.

In a show full of surprises the most significant is that The Marriage of Kim K is not a satire but an affectionate tribute. Mercer and Hyde show the same level of respect for both low and high culture finding humour in the excesses of both. Why should people reject opera as unrealistic when they accept the idiocies of The Kardashians? There is the sense that relationships between men and women have changed little over the years and that fact and fiction are very similar. In a fine comic turn James Edge plays real-life Kris Humphries as a walking groin with no interest in anything that does not involve sex while Nathan Bells makes Mozart’s fictional Count Almaviva so seedy a flock of birds could feed off him.

Fringe theatre is littered with the remains of shows which seemed a good idea on paper but failed when put on stage. To see a production where those involved have the talent to make the concept work makes you want to cheer. The Marriage of Kim K is one of those rare shows that might benefit from the addition of an interval so a longer version could allow more exploration of the ideas but there is no doubt that in its present form this is an exciting example of what can be achieved in theatre and a pleasure to watch.

Reviewer: David Cunningham