Thursday, 17 January 2019

REVIEW: The Legend of Queen Kong by Sarah Ward

Sarah Ward as Queen Kong
Photo: Peter Leslie
There’s a star field and a band and a crawl of yellow text and we recognise these things, these elements, from our memories and our lives and our pop culture. These are helpful touchstones as The Legend of Queen Kong: Episode II – Queen Kong in Space begins.


Kong is immortal and has already lived for millennia; born from a dead ape and a volcanic eruption. Kong is taking us on a trip through the universe and into the future, leading to exquisitie revelations and existential crises.

Queen Kong is a new show from performer Sarah Ward, best known for the character of Yana Alana. But this Queen of the Earth, singer of rock songs, isn’t a simple character creation. It’s a creation myth. It’s as much about the Big Bang – an orgy of male Gods, as it is about the music we have put out into the universe.

Music is central, though. Queen Kong is the lead singer of a band, the HOMOsapiens, and the show is a concert and cabaret and a strange kind of storytelling. I was witness to a spectacle; a messy, lively, memorable spectacle.

Sarah’s Kong is dressed in a sparkly leotard, silvery pubic hair showing, a big fur coat wrapped around her. It’s a striking image birthed onto the stage, sometimes running into the audience, sometimes up in the balcony of the Fairfax Studio. A thrilling, memorable persona.

The audience is warned early on that things won’t always make sense and this is reiterated throughout. The Legend wants to expose us to new ideas, radical concepts and the unknowable forces of space and time – without getting bogged down by linear narrative storytelling. For me, I would have rather the show push further in either direction, giving us a little more story to hang onto – or to forget story altogether and spend time crafting mind-blowing moments.

Accessibility for a deaf audience is built into the design of the show; there’s a deaf performer on screen and all live text was signed in Auslan by a character called The Interpreter. There were also surtitles on the screen that explained the styles of music that was playing – but it wasn’t merely informational, that text also had its own moments of levity.

The combination of a large video projection, the live band, Ward’s always-astonishing singing created sequences that were hilarious and occasionally touching. There wasn’t a very satisfying shape to the show, though. There were times where it felt like things were wrapping up before the performance leapt in another direction. The final song, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”, was beautiful rendered but it’s a pity the climax of the show wasn’t composed by the creators at the heart of The Legend of Queen Kong.

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