Festivals, Reviews, Stage

Midsumma Review: The Legend of Queen Kong

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This show crashes into Melbourne for Midsumma, flung from space via the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. The self-described space-fiction confidently incorporates diverse musical genres, large projections and Auslan to create an energised vision of queer and accessible futures.

Calling itself a “modern mythology, a queer tale, an abstract adventure,” Queen Kong’s commitment to colliding space and time is established from the outset, with the audience taking their seats in the Arts Centre to The Carpenters’ take on Klaatu’s Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, followed by a jazz-funk version of the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme.

When the lights go down the all queer, all gender-diverse rock band The HOMOsapiens take to the stage and Sarah Ward appears in character as Queen Kong, a part rock, part ape Immortal Being, resplendent in a glittery nude bodysuit. She’s joined on stage by Auslan interpreter Kirri Dangerfield, while the large projector screen’s trippy visuals include deaf performer Asphyxia, embodying the role of the Motherboard, a “conduit of communication”.

Queen Kong and the HOMOsapiensFrom there the show loosely tells the story of Queen Kong hitching a ride on a sparkling gold asteroid through deep space. Emphasis on loosely –  as Ward herself says at one point, time isn’t linear – and there are plenty of amusing detours along the way.

The diverse song list spans affectionate homages and parodies of everything from rock anthems to art pop, with a spot of opera, surf-pop and even  a jazzy beat poetry performance chucked in. The lyrics are full of riffs and other absurdist details (sample lyric: “What’s so kind about mankind?  Human nature is a boy band. Genes are denim pants.”)

A highlight of proceedings is a powerful rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, which showcases Ward’s impressive vocals and stage presence. The stripped-back rendition cleverly arrives towards the end of the show’s countless absurdities, lending it an unexpected emotional weight.

“The future is accessible,” Queen Kong declares at one point, and the show impressively integrates Auslan fully into proceedings. Interpreter Kirri Dangerfield does not just sign the events on-stage, she is the events on stage, interacting at various points with Queen Kong.

Queen Kong 2In lesser hands all of these elements would collapse into a complete mess, but despite the show explicitly referencing its own absurdity, there’s a cohesion to events. An endearing self-awareness on the behalf of the performers helps both to propel the show along, and connects the events on-stage with the world outside the theatre.

These connections are as small as a sly smile from a performer and as emphatic as the moment the show virtually pauses to listen to former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim’s painfully dull voice-recording, sent into space on behalf of the population of earth aboard Voyagers I and II. The juxtaposition between that and the events on-stage invites us to imagine all manner of histories and futures. It feels like a queering of everything, from music to narrative to time itself.

At one point, Queen Kong wraps things up and talks to the audience as if the show is about to end. We dutifully applaud, but then it continues for another 20 minutes. Time, as she reminded us, isn’t linear.

It’s a funny example of how easily we are led to behave by convention. From the lyrics to the pseudo-parodic music choices, Queen Kong is full of these small reminders. That the conventional is as inherently absurd as anything else is a lesson that’s always worth re-learning, and sometimes it falls to an immortal part rock/part ape in a sparkling bodysuit to do the reminding.

The Legend of Queen Kong Episode II: Queen Kong in Outer Space is showing as part of Midsumma 2019 at the Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until January 20.

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