The Marriage of Kim K, Arcola Theatre

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by guest critic Maeve Campbell

In 2011 Osama Bin Laden was killed, Pope John Paul II was beautified, and Kate and Wills tied the knot. Nearly as many people watched another televised wedding that year  as a new reality-TV religion swept the globe. This is where The Marriage of Kim K, a new opera penned by Leoe Mercer and Steven Hyde, begins.

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The Magic Flute, King’s Head Theatre

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by guest critic Alistair Wilkinson

The King’s Head Theatre has been turned into a South American jungle, and we are invited to go along with the intrigued explorer Tamino, as he embarks on his journey to discover a world full of magical beings. In this world, and actually this performance too, nothing is what is expected.

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Dress Rehearsal, OSO Barnes

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A performer’s life is far from glamorous, particularly for those managing to eke out some sort of living in the business. Corporate gigs, theatre-in-education, skin work and small-scale touring is better than working in a call centre or bar, but this work is exhausting and usually demoralising. I remember similar days in my past life as an actor, particularly that panto tour to schools and social clubs in South Wales. The schools were fine; teachers kept order. But the social clubs were all loud, drunk adults, and kids hyped up on e-numbers who thought hitting the actors was the most hilarious thing ever. With two shows a day, six days a week for a month and a half, I keenly feel the anguish of opera troupe The Overtones’ pub booking in AJ Evans’ Dress Rehearsal, even though those days are long behind me. Despite kinship with the characters’ aspirations and conflicts, and fantastic singing, the clunky script, poor performances, and undeveloped characters make this a missed opportunity to showcase opera within the structure of a play.

The concept reads well on paper and it could be a great way to make opera approachable as well as demystify life as a performer: flipping between the pub floor gig, the dressing room and reserved mezzo Steph’s past, we see trouble within The Overtones cast and career goals clashing with reality, and some cracking opera numbers. There’s certainly scope for situation comedy as well as character-driven dramatic conflict. However, Evans’ script hovers in the liminal space between these styles, creating something that manages to be both unfunny and quite flat with hackneyed dialogue. Subplots and the flashbacks are neglected and left incomplete, making them feel gratuitous to the main plot thread. The first half is slow and little happens other than exposition, but after the interval, both tension and pace picks up. The final moment even has genuine emotional connection between two characters, something that is pointedly absent in the script up to this point.

The singing is excellently emotive, however. There’s enough book (albeit a poorly written one) to make Dress Rehearsal a play with music, but there’s enough music to suitably break up the simplistic dialogue. Five of the eight actors are opera singers, one is a pianist who sings and two are “just” actors. The singers are certainly good at their primary craft, but lack in their acting ability. Director Paola Cuffolo focuses more on staging than coaching truthful performances from her cast. There is some stylisation that, as a conceptual break from realism, is under used and lacks punch.

If Dress Rehearsal was a single act composed mainly of the current second half, it would be a much stronger play. As it is, it wanders aimlessly for quite some time before finding its purpose and conviction. Fortunately, the songs are welcome respite in what feels like something that well precedes a dress rehearsal.

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Mirror Mirror: A Snow White Pantomime, King’s Head Theatre

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They are new to the King’s Head, but Charles Court Opera aren’t new to pantomime. This year’s Mirror Mirror: A Snow White Pantomime is their ninth “boutique” panto. Though an opera company, this show and cast of six are anything but stereotypical opera fare. John Savournin’s script is fresh and witty, the performances are camp and vibrant, and the re-written pop song soundtrack is so well sung that it deserves a cast recording. There’s plenty of typical panto interaction, made easier and more personal in a fringe venue but doesn’t overwhelm the space, either. Though the costumes are detailed and fun, the set is a bit analog and takes up a lot of playing space, restricting movement and choreography. Some of the performances were more genuine than others, but this remains a wonderfully current panto with excellent writing.

Savournin also directs and plays Snow White, the ditzy, ingénue widow of Barry White living with the seven dwarfs, all distinctly and energetically played by Matthew Kellet. Greedy queen Andrea Tweedale uses her mirror (Simon Masterton-Smith) to help her search for a husband, but her plans are thwarted when prince Larry Black (Amy J Payne) and his valet Harry (Nichola Jolly) show up looking for a bride and instead of being impressed by her beauty, Larry falls for Snow. The traditional story veers off in numerous contemporary directions from there, which adds to the audience’s delight and prevents the show from becoming stale or generic. The music is mostly cleverly reworked pop songs, but there’s a bit of musical theatre thrown in and the Act one Finale numbers are fantastic.

No individual performer overshadows the others, instead they are a balanced lot with clear strengths. Payne and Jolly are a charismatic pair, with Kellett’s range of dwarves a hilarious counterpoint to the leads. Savournin’s Snow is shallow but sweet and doesn’t fall short in any of the creative roles he takes on. Tweedale stokes the audiences’ booing and aww-ing brilliantly. The height difference between Savournin and Payne supports the comedy heavily peppering the dialogue, as does the cross-gender casting that goes beyond the dame and principal boy. There is some lovely chemistry between some of the characters but even though it’s a panto, there could be more between Payne and Savournin.

There’s loads of audience interaction and mess, the best being a Great British Bake Off-style competition that results in dough everywhere. Of course, there’s your usual panto call and response but not so much so that the script is otherwise flimsy. The unique visual gags Savournin employs are much more satisfying, anyway (pro tip: look out for Barry). A few give a nod to tradition, but this is definitely a language-focused script. This gives the performance a richness and depth missing from more traditional fare, hence the “boutique” label. Charles Court Opera is certainly onto a winning formula here within London pantomime offerings and is not one panto fans should miss.


The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.