It’s the five-star production that has been winning over audiences nationwide at this summer’s fringe festivals, but how did duo Leoe&Hyde create ‘The Marriage of Kim K’? Sian Bayley speaks to librettist Leo Mercer, to find out more about this modern and ambitious rewrite of Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’.
Leo Mercer (leoemercer), is famous on the Oxford scene as a librettist, writing the text to various student genre-bending operas such as ‘The Prophetess’ (2015), and ‘Queueue: A Coffee Shop Musical’ (2016). It is his mash up of Kim Kardashian and Mozart, however, that has caught the most attention, and has been touring the UK this summer, culminating in its run at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Leo admits he loves ‘coming up with titles that immediately get your mind whirling, and then seeing what happens next’, and explains that he was inspired to write ‘Kim K’, ‘having just read a book of experimental poetry called ‘Kim Kardashian’s Marriage’, seen someone in a cool indie cafe arranging ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, and had a discussion with a music academic about what a 21st opera libretto could be like.’
It is the sort of bizarre set of circumstances that characterise Leo’s unique style of work.
Indeed, Leo is keen to emphasise he is ‘definitely not going for weird – just unique’, when questioned about his response to ‘Kim K’ appearing on Time Out Magazine’s ‘Top 10 Weirdest Shows at The Fringe’. He is inspired by the idea that ‘one generation’s weird is the next generation’s normal’, and is a devout follower of Peter Thiel’s insistence that big creations build on beliefs that you have, but no one else shares. Leo is the epitome of a forward-thinking artist, actively looking to create new things, and playing with already established categories to create something a bit different. He takes a particular interest in genre fluidity by ‘beginning with his personal experience’ then trying to ‘hone that into something shareable’, articulating the parts of himself that he doesn’t feel other people are articulating for him. Remarking that ‘once upon a time, you’d have a pretty consistent range of experiences over the course of a day’, whereas today ‘we deal with centuries and universes, tragedy and humour, over the course of an hour’, he is curious about watching the twists and turns of popular culture, that can be found in any episode of ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians.’ Somewhat surprisingly Leo confesses he’s not ‘massively invested in pop culture’, but instead cares about ‘understanding people and connecting with reality.’ For him ‘the Kardashians are vaguely interesting; but it’s the people who watch the Kardashians, and the way millions of lives are intertwining with theirs’ that interests him more.
He applies this kind of ‘Gogglebox lense’ to the play by using real-life couple Stephen and Amelia as the central duo, fighting over whether to watch another episode of ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ or ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. Placing Stephen and Amelia next to Kim and Kris and Mozart’s Count and Countess, Leo explores a variety of relationships, making the Kardashians seem closer to Mozart than they ever have before.
Leo explains, ‘the idea is to create the most experimental work I can, in the most popular way I can’, equally balancing substance and communication. ‘Ultimately, I’d love to be involved in high quality, futuristic works that are emphatically meant for the public, not a specialist audience.’ It is for this reason Leo is working with Classical Evolution on developing and sharing GenreFluid at this year’s fringe festival, producing an open-mic for classical musicians to be creative and ‘genrefluid’ with their work, breaking down boundaries and creating something fun and engaging.
Leo notes, however, the difficulty of working out where to start when you have limited resources, and the issues with scaling student productions to the levels required for national tours. Staging such an ambitious piece as ‘The Marriage of Kim K’ is a mammoth task, and I’m told that Leo and Stephen are continuing to rework the play after the summer to smooth out any bumps encountered during this summer’s run.
Yet, despite its scale and difficulty, it is clear that Leoe&Hyde have produced a real gem for this summer’s fringe. To write and perform a witty Kardashian musical and glorious Mozart opera at the same time is a truly outstanding feat, for which the duo should be congratulated on.
‘The Marriage of Kim K’ is performing at the Fringe from August 2nd – 28th