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Inside Midsumma’s Must-See Rock Musical, The Legend Of Queen Kong

By Stephen A Russell
15th Jan 2019


Just like Star Wars, Midsumma Festival theatrical highlight The Legend of Queen Kong starts slap bang in the middle with Episode II. Imprisoned in outer space, this latest alter ego of queer cabaret diva Sarah Ward (aka Yana Alana) is part immortal god, part ape and part stone. She’s on a mission to find out what makes humans tick, even as they flee from her in fear.

So far, so gloriously bonkers, reflecting Ward’s sci-fi and fantasy-loving childhood. “I was obsessed with Star Wars and the magic of non-linear time in Monkey Magic,” she says.

Describing the show as modern mythology and feminist manifesto, it draws on pop culture references from Gargantua to Mothra, to King Kong. It’s also a barnstorming rock musical with the aid of long-term partner Bec Matthews, who leads gender-diverse The HOMOsapiens band. “I can’t tell you how hard she has worked,” Ward says. “She’s put her life on hold and has been there every step of the way step of the way. She’s constantly patient, she does it all with grace and good will and never says, ‘this is too hard’.”

In a refreshing approach to accessibility Matthews also taught herself how to close caption the video art-led Midsumma extravaganza—designed by Will Huxley and animator Finn Scholes—with Ward and the band joined for the run by deaf performer Asphyxia and Auslan Interpreter Kirri Dangerfield.

“Asphyxia told us really early on that it’s a sad misconception that deaf and hard of hearing people don’t like music,” Ward says. “Some people are partially hearing, some can’t hear at all but can feel the vibrations, and others move with the vibe of the room and the lighting. I’m learning more and more about the diversity within the community.”

Diversity is the name of the game for Ward. “Bec and I sat down and asked ourselves, if we’re writing this show about the human experience and our connection with the earth and the universe and we’re actually excluding a group of humans from accessing this work, then we’re not doing our job.”

Directed by the incredible Susie Dee with support from dramaturg Anni Davey, Ward says it’s the most collaborative work she’s ever created and the one she’s most proud of, dedicated as it is to Matthews’ late father, with a final song in his honour. “It’s also looking at how humans treat each other and the planet, so there’s politics in there as well as the pop culture references and the very personal touches.”

A clarion call for action, it’s also a rollicking adventure. “I want everyone to have fun, to come along dressed out of this world, and I hope it inspires the empathy I see in most queers and queer allies, the kind of people that stop to pick a snail up off the path,” Ward says. “How tragic it is that a part of our nature as humans is to consume, to be greedy, to fight each other? At some point we really, really need to sit down and go, ‘we’re seriously looking at the end of our species’. What does that mean to us? It is f**king real, and this show is a little bit about that.”

The Details

What: The Legend Of Queen Kong Episode II: Queen Kong In Outer Space
Where: Arts Centre Melbourne, St Kilda Road
When: Wednesday 16 January – Sunday 20 January
For more info, click here.

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Image credit: supplied

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