Punk, bawdy and a tad confusing
By Bradley Storer
Midsumma Festival 2019 launched this week, and what more appropriate way to blast off than with a story set in the deepest reaches of space?
The Legend of Queen Kong – Episode Two: Queen Kong in Outer Space is the latest endeavour from Sarah Ward, the performer behind the infamous Australian cabaret cage-rattler Yana Alana. Ward introduces us to the mythological and immortal being Queen Kong – half ape, half living rock – in the midst of an epic trilogy, a space journey commencing after a daring escape from Planet Earth. Backed by a queer and gender diverse punk band the HOMOsapiens (Bec Matthews, Gen Bernstein, Jo Franklin and Cerise Howard), Kong vaults from experience to experience in an intergalactic quest of sensation. Complementing the group is the omnipresent Motherboard creatively portrayed and signed by deaf performer Asphyxia via projection with a voice over by singer Ilana Charnelle, whose gorgeous music ranges from rock ballad to operatic aria. Accessibility is paramount in this production, with AUSLAN interpreter Kirri Dangerfield providing live signing (as well as doubling as performer) in addition to surtitles.
Ward commands the stage from beginning to end, wielding her gigantic and miraculously versatile voice with finesse along with her bawdy and fearless physicality. The HOMOsapiens, under the musical direction of Matthews, tear the house down in their rock numbers and play with delicate fragility in the softer musical interludes. Asphyxia, even in projection form, is so charismatic and engaging that they almost overshadow Kong herself!
The show seems deliberately designed to frustrate linear narrative convention, appropriate for a story that involves a black hole reducing time and matter to a singularity where beginning, middle and end merge. Kong reminds the audience at several points that it’s perfectly fine to have no idea what is happening as we loop from event to event, backwards and sideways in time, resisting hetero-patriarchal structures of storytelling.
While there is a wealth of riches in Queen Kong in terms of production, performers and form – as well as definite moments of deep beauty and emotion – it feels as though these elements never quite coalesce into a cohesive whole. Despite the clear themes of patriarchy, religion and resistance that emerge, we’re only left with the message Ward and the creatives of Queen Kong are trying to communicate through Joni Mitchell’s classic refrain: “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”. Nevertheless, the show’s sheer creative vitality and passion is more than enough reason to hope for more accessible-queer-feminist-punk art such as this!
The Legend of Queen Kong is being performed until 20 January at Arts Centre Melbourne. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.
Photograph: Peter Leslie