It’s a change for me to see something at the Royal Opera House that is not an opera or a ballet, albeit in the Linbury Studio Theatre. First performed in Basel in 2013, King Size is the vision of Swiss opera director and composer Christoph Marthaler. The whole thing is a play on the classical German tradition of Liederabend (‘evening of song’) and brings together the most eclectic mix of songs and musical pieces, in a captivating and intimate setting.
Only four performers grace the stage throughout the performance, and one of them is a prose-reciting elderly lady. The plot revolves around a couple trying to sleep in an unfamiliar room in an unfamiliar bed. The arc of the narrative follows their dreamy thoughts and their restless insomnia, as they attempt to find peace and ultimately sleep. Apart from the lyrics of the songs, which range from Schumann to The Jackson 5, there is little text in the work and it makes for an intriguing watch, as we try to decipher the desires and bizarre concepts created by these wondering characters.
At times laugh-out-loud funny, King Size is certainly entertaining. It is also ridiculous and absurd and full of awkward moments, including the aforementioned old lady, who proceeds to eat noodles out of her handbag as she is accompanied by the Act 4 finale of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. This is truly theatre not of this country and not of this world, and a rare treat to find.
Even though there are surtitles, there is a language barrier at moments, with German being the predominant language of the piece. This however is a very minor hiccough for me; yet at times as a spectator you feel as lost and confused as the characters on stage appeared to be. King Size is not an easy watch, but I welcome the opportunity as an audience member to be tested, and the chance to escape our mundane realities.
Musically it is well sung and excellently choreographed. Performers interchange roles of accompanist, singer and dancer frequently, and a huge amount of talent is on show. This is a great example of merging genres and the collaboration of multi-disciplinary artists, and is not something you would expect to see at the ROH – instead at the Edinburgh Fringe. King Size is a bemusing and amusing evening full of music from every period imaginable. Don’t miss it – you’ll be disappointed if you do.
King Size plays at the Royal Opera House until 18 April. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Opera House website. Photo by Simon Hallström.