The Marriage of Kim K

Stephen Hyde (composer) and Leo Mercer (story and lyrics) with additional music by W A Mozart
Dan Mawson and Leo Mercer
The Lowry, Salford
to

The Marriage of Kim K, which burst onto the fringe theatre scene in 2017, returns having crossed over into the mainstream. No one can begrudge Stephen Hyde and Leo Mercer their success—even in its original form the opera obviously deserved a big stage to match the ambitions of the authors.

The Lowry is staging the opera as part of the Rewrites season. As the opera has been substantially revised, this makes sense. There was a strong sense of an autobiographical in-joke with the original production as composer Stephen Hyde played a composer named Stephen Hyde and the breathless tone was close to a farce. The revised version is less self-consciously clever; if the original was in the style of Jerry Springer The Opera, mixing low and high culture, the new opera is more mature and rueful—like The Last Five Years.

Amanda (Rebecca McAuley) and Mike (Jack Harauville) live together happily but are not the same. They acknowledge they have nothing in common except they both breathe oxygen. After a long working week, Amanda, an under-appreciated nurse, just wants to vegetate in front of the TV and watch the antics of Kim Kardashian (Megan Postle). Amanda is addicted to the twists and turns of Kim’s short-lived marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries (Ben Storey). Mike on the other hand prefers entertainment that is more artistic and constantly tries to interest Amanda in grand opera. Mike wants to propose to Amanda but lacks confidence. As reality warps, Mike finds himself getting advice from both Kris Humphries and Mozart’s Count Almaviva (John Leuan Jones).

Director Franciska Ery sets a naturalistic, relaxed tone for act one and moves the opera away from farce towards a domestic comedy. However, the addition of a curtain raiser and an interval makes you wish she had pushed things along a little more briskly. The second act, with the interaction between characters from different cultures, is more comedic—particularly a baffled John Leuan Jones coming to terms with modern customs and phrases. The relationship between Amanda and Mike is convincingly brittle and strained although the latter part feels a bit underwritten, as we have no details on what Mike does for a living or what prompts his artistic pretensions.

Caityn Mawhinney’s set neatly avoids potential confusion arising from shifting realities by placing the characters from reality TV and grand opera within neon frames that also serve as TV screens.

Although the farcical elements have been toned down, there remain wonderful comic moments: singers freeze in position and hold a note when the ‘pause’ button is pressed on the TV remote. Mercer’s script comically mixes the romantic with the vulgar: while Mike imagines going down on one knee to propose to Amanda, Count Almaviva fantasises about his mistress going down on him. When Amanda jumps into Kim’s TV version of reality, she is amazed to find swear words bleeped out.

Stephen Hyde’s score is highly ambitious, mixing a wide variety of styles from classical through to rap. Unusually for a modern musical, the tunes are actually memorable even addictive—"Watch TV" is still nagging in my head.

The Marriage of Kim K is balanced evenly with the relationships between the characters on TV explored in the same depth as that of Amanda and Mike. There is no distinction between low and high culture. Kim Kardashian’s make-up tips are treated as seriously as Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

Much of the humour in the opera comes from the antics of the male characters. Jack Harauville joins the long line of inarticulate English men unable to express their tender feelings with confidence. John Leuan Jones and Ben Storey offer alternate comic versions of masculinity—one ridiculously seedy and predatory and the other muscular but dumb as a post. Rebecca McAuley is very much the adult in the relationship and able to express her resentment of how her partner seeks to impose his opinions upon her. Surprisingly, Megan Postle does not parody Kim Kardashian but plays the role as a realistic impersonation—but then the real-life character is pretty much beyond satire.

The revised version of The Marriage of Kim K retains the originality and brash cheek of the fringe original but the wider scope allows for greater emotional depth making this an exciting new experience rather than just a revival.

Reviewer: David Cunningham