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Queen Kong puts a bedazzled rock twist on cabaret

When you think of cabaret, you probably think of sparkly tasselled dresses, men in hats, incredible choreographed sequences and the kind of old-timey music that your grandparents would have loved when they were young and edgy. 

While understandable, this is a far cry from today’s world of cabaret, as shown by the second instalment of Sarah Ward’s theatrical Queen Kong trilogy, The Legend of Queens Kong Episode II: Queen Kong in Outer Space.

To give you a basic run down of the show would be reductionist; the perils and adventures of Queen Kong are so complex that it’s mind-blowing to consider the story was borne of the human mind at all. Nonetheless, Queen Kong – an immortal being who is part rock and part ape – has been imprisoned for being too large, with her steps causing destruction wherever she goes. Naturally, the largest meteorite in the asteroid belt, named Ceres, descends to Earth and saves her from her suffocating imprisonment, lifting her into the wider universe; however, danger awaits. The ensuing journey – backed by rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals, Ward’s incredible vocals and deaf performer Asphyxia’s signing – will shed light on current and pertinent social issues through the lens of sheer silliness and humour.

“It takes on a lot of the tropes of the science-fiction genre. It really plays with the concept of time not really being linear, so that’s why we start the story of Queen Kong in Episode II,” Ward explains. “We pick up at the point where Queen Kong is imprisoned for being too large, and she calls upon rock to save her – meaning rock music, which is the song of protest.

“It’s hilarious. That being said, we do end on a melancholy, sombre-ish note, so the audience is definitely encouraged to consider some deeper issues while also engaging with the humour of it all.”

Ward, the mastermind and face behind Queen Kong herself, is no stranger to the stage. She became a mainstay and legend of the Australian cabaret scene when she first embodied the character Yana Alana, a narcissistic yet completely deluded diva who believed herself to be nothing if not absolutely divine. Ward’s alter-ego was likened to Edna Everage and described by Kate Ceberano as “a gun-slinging, take no prisoners kinda girl with her heart on her ass.”

Though acutely based around the 1976 film Queen Kong, the show is undeniably linked to the issues faced by our society in the current day, including issues pertaining to the queer, refugee, and other communities. Additionally, the show addresses the lack of deaf-inclusive performance by placing deaf performer Asphyxia in the show, as well as Kirri Dangerfield’s Auslan interpretations and video components.

“Having her as such a big presence in the show means that Auslan is immersive instead of being something that’s put to the side,” Ward explains. “So deaf and hard-of-hearing people will be able to experience the show in a more complete way, as well as giving able-hearing people a new language to engage with, because it’s largely gestural.”

Though the ham in the middle of this intergalactic, stratospheric, queer amalgamation of rock and glamour, Queen Kong in Outer Space can stand alone as its own dip into the creative genius of Ward and her team, including co-creator Bec Matthews, the all-gender-diverse-and-queer rock band HOMOsapiens, and deaf performer Asphyxia. When asked if the queer aspect of the show was important to her and the team, Ward laughs.

“Pretty much everyone [on the team] is queer – in regard to sexuality and gender, everything is represented. So it’s very important to us.

“Years ago, we would never have expected to be able to receive encouragement to perform a show this outwardly vocal about issues such as this, let alone receive the funding. And now we have space, and time, and we’re taking up room. It’s so great, seeing as we’ve been doing these sorts of things for so long. This is a real testament to the work we’ve all put in before it was as accepted as it is now.”

The Legend of Queen Kong Episode II: Queen Kong in Outer Space plays at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne from Wednesday January 16 until Sunday January 20. All performances are Auslan interpreted and you can find more details on show times and tickets via the Arts Centre Melbourne website.