This article first appeared on The Oxford Student website on 26 February 2016. In the end, The Marriage of Kim K wasn’t quite the best play Oxford had ever done. But it was very, very good.
If you’ve ever thought that Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro could be made better with the addition of reality TV stars, a squabbling middle class couple and an omniscient vlogger, then… Well for one thing, you have unbelievably specific tastes. For another, the O’Reilly has the play for you, starting next week. As that role call of elements suggests, this is a production with a lot going on, but if the preview is anything to go by then that sense of ambition is matched by the skills of its cast and crew. Barring one potentially serious technical problem, this looks to be one of the most exciting shows Oxford has seen all term.
The plot involves three couples, two of which are being watched on television by the third, but who emerge to interact with each other and the audience as the play goes on – never mind the internet, it seems Kim Kardashian has broken reality itself. The linking element is the character of Figaro; an employee of all three couples, he wanders between the three different realities of the play, manipulating and wryly commenting on events by means of vlogs addressed to both the characters and the audience. He’s an anarchic trickster figure, played note-perfectly by Jack Trzcinski; alternating between tender and heartfelt and swaggering and roguish, he’s a magnetic stage (and screen) presence, and the climax of act one sees him unleashing hell with a click of his fingers in a masterfully-timed bit of acting.
The rest of the cast are stunning as well. Gabriella Noble is convincing as Kim, but charismatic enough that her performance doesn’t just feel like an impression. James Quilligan is hilarious as Kris Humphries, able to generate laughter from mere facial expressions, while Jonno Hobbs and Ell Potter are regal and dignified as Mozart’s Count and Countess. But Amelia Gabriel and John Paul really stand out as modern couple Beth and Mo, selling their duet in the final scene with a sense of honesty and sweetness, which is lovely without feeling clichéd: “You’re my chocolate,/ You’re my cheesecake/ I would go gluten-free for you/ Even join a gym for you.” They all work splendidly with one another, and harmonise a treat. If you’re in this for the singing, they won’t disappoint.
However, this brings us to a major problem with the play as it previewed, which has the potential to wreck the entire production. As lovely as the music was, it frequently drowned out the words and occasionally indistinct enunciation certainly didn’t help. I sat a just metre away and I couldn’t hear everything, and this was with just a piano accompanying them. So what this production needs is either personal microphones or for the band to take it down a notch. This problem kneecapped The Prophetess at the O’Reilly last year, and it would be criminal to see the same thing happen again, especially because Mercer’s script is clever, witty and heartfelt enough to deserve better than being drowned out by an another overzealous orchestra.
The Marriage of Kim K runs the gamut of emotion, from joy to despair to anger and back again. It may well be the most vibrant and self-assured preview I’ve ever seen. But all of that brilliant scripting and all those poignant performances will be for nought if none of the words can actually be heard. If it can sort that out, it’s got the raw ingredients of the best play Oxford’s ever done. If not, it’s staring down a tragic case of wasted potential.