Review: Kourtney Kardashian @ HOME, Manchester

Kourtney Kardashian came to HOME in Manchester… sort of.

Brought to us by Basque Country-based Sleepwalk Collective, a two woman performance by Iara Solano Arana and Nhung Dang, Kourtney Kardashian is the final instalment in an ‘accidental trilogy’ of performances about ‘high art and celebrity’, following 2016’s ballet Kim Kardashian and 2017’s stage play Khloe Kardashian.

Anyone who isn’t a hardened veteran of arthouse theatre might find it hard to go into this without a degree of cynicism, but it does serve as a relief that Kourtney Kardashian is in tune with such cynicism, and has the self-awareness to acknowledge it.

The production follows the trend of taking on an entirely new medium, this time opera, but it’s clear the word opera is used very loosely – the show notes concede it’s “an art form we barley understand”.

More than enough reason to roll your eyes, it seems, but like most performances of this ilk there’s the presumption that we’ll be presented with profound answers to life’s most existential questions.

We’re told that it’ll touch on everything from identity, selfhood, technology, automation, and Brexit.

Ambitious, perhaps.

If it’s a commentary on any of these, it’s done far too cryptically for the ordinary layman to grasp. What we have here is two women in gold dresses monologuing for an hour whilst a screen behind them reads out seemingly unrelated text.

Where the Kardashians fit in any of this doesn’t seem apparent, and you begin to suspect that they’ve been lazily characterised as a symbol for all things bad, capitalist, superficial and [insert problematic modern phenomenon here].

However, where Kourtney Kardashian excels is in its intention to put the audience’s awareness under the spotlight, carefully dissecting every thought that appears in your head and addressing whatever cynicism you’ll inevitably experience as you watch it.

This is immediately made clear during the first of a string of relentlessly self-referential monologues, informing us of what’s to come: “There will be performers on stage that will pretend to not know that we’re watching, but we’ll know that they know that we’re watching.”

Early on our attention is drawn to two large speakers in both far corners of the room, playing snippets of sitcom-style canned laughter.

Dang reminds those in attendance that just as almost every human purpose is being slowly outsourced to machines, audience membership is no exception. Better yet, the canned laughter knows just when to laugh in all the right places.

Whilst there’s certainly an amusing novelty in this self-aware and almost self-deprecating humour, it can begin to feel hollow, and just that, novelty.

At one point, Arana holds a pose whilst Dang commentates over it, informing us that the longer Arana holds her fairly unremarkable pose, the more its value increases, given that it occupies more time in a £12, hour-long show.

Whilst you can’t deny the logical reasoning, it can feel like, at best, a pointless observation made merely for the sake of making it, and at worst, shamelessly taunting you for spending your money on what is essentially nothing.

That said, the show does provide moments of substance, even if they’re too abstract to make much sense of.

The carefully timed choreography of Dang and Arana, coupled with some impressively immersive sound production, makes for an interesting spectacle, which comes to a head in the closing moments of the performance, that manages to fill you with a gripping sense of unease and impending doom.

It may be difficult to make sense of, but that’s probably the intention. In the landscape of creative nihilism that Kourtney Kardashian lives in, binary ideas like good and bad seem rather pointless.

So in keeping with the central theme of the show: sure, whatever.

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