King Size (Royal Opera House)

Renowned Swiss director Christoph Marthaler brings a breath of fresh air to the Linbury Theatre

Michael von der Heide and Tora Augestad in King Size (ROH
Michael von der Heide and Tora Augestad in King Size (ROH)
© Simon Hallström

"A reflection on love and the seduction of dreams"? Hm, maybe. But anyone who needs to fathom what King Size is actually about – even Royal Opera director Kasper Holten, who offers that definition in the programme – is surely missing the point.

A sleeping man awakens to Francis Lai and dresses while singing an interminable loop of Wachsmann’s 'Wachet auf'; a hotel bellhop and chambermaid make his bed (then lie in it) but change their personalities at the drop of a hat; a deadpan woman makes ghostly appearances and eats spaghetti out of her handbag.

It’s theatre of the absurd writ large, and a properly joyous entertainment. On one level King Size is a juke-box opera, or perhaps a 'Liederabend' of 26 disconnected numbers flung together out of relish for their incongruous juxtaposition; on another it’s a cascade of jolly japes delivered by four talented artists. Either way it’s a 75-minute delight, and I couldn’t care less whether it’s actually about anything.

Boundary-pushing Swiss director Christoph Marthaler and keyboard wizard Bendix Dethleffsen created King Size for Theater Basel, and it’s as kinkily European as you might expect. But it also appeals to the Anglo-Saxon love of the non sequitur, as exemplified by the likes of NF Simpson and Monty Python, and as such it found an instant connection with an audience who responded with warmth and laughter. And thank goodness – for I can scarcely recall the last time a descent into the bowels of the Linbury Studio lifted the spirits rather than pummelling them.

Dethleffsen spends most of the evening at the piano while Tora Augestad and Michael von der Heide deliver the songs with the lightly trained confidence of cabaret actors. She turns in a parade of sharply defined characters, he is a dab hand at dad dancing. Nikola Weisse is the apparition with the pasta habit.

How many shows do you know that could jump from Wagner’s Tristan Prelude through the Jackson 5’s 'I’ll Be There' to Bobby Lapointe’s tongue-twisting 'Méli Mélodie', all within five minutes? The variety is bewildering, and it’s undeniably a hymn to what Noel Coward called the potency of cheap music. You’ll relish the Schumann songs but it’s 'Sonny Boy' you’ll be whistling on the way out.