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Event Spotlight: Q&A with Peter England, King Kong

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Event Spotlight: Q&A with Peter England, King Kong

We chat to production and set designer Peter England about the New York photographers who inspired him, how the production will forever change modern theatre, and why King Kong won't go national.

What attracted you to the stage adaptation of King Kong?

Having been a part of the team that created Walking with Dinosaurs the Arena Spectacular in 2006/7 I was also a part of a small group discussing possible future productions for the then newly formed company Global Creatures. Very early on in these discussions King Kong emerged as a favoured story to pursue. It has massive worldwide recognition as a title. It’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story line is classically archetypal and thus theatrical. Its imagery is iconic. It features a gigantic beast, and is a tale of great emotional heart with a powerful modern relevance.  There was no question it was the show to be done.

Although it’s arguably one of the most prolific and reimagined stories to come out of ‘30s era, do you think King Kong is underappreciated?

Not at all. I think there is a great love for King Kong internationally. A quick search of the Web will display thousands of sites dedicated to the topic. From fan based filmography sites to academic dissertations on metaphor and meaning. Kong touches our hearts as the Misunderstood Monster, The Outsider. He ignites our imaginations as a creature of both power and fear and yet also softness and vulnerability. He is one of the greatest leading men of film history. Our aim is to now make him the greatest leading man of stage history.

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Did you feel a duty to do the original incarnation justice or does this new production take the story on a different journey?

Both. Most audiences will know the King Kong story to some degree. They will also know a few of the key iconic moments from it. This story and these moments have a profound place in popular culture. To ignore this would be to ignore some of the most famous and successful moments in modern mythology. And yet we have maintained a creative hunger to expand and illuminate King Kong as a stage production for a 21st Century audience. The result is a passionate telling of the classic tale, employing an abundance of theatrical magic, whilst keeping a keen focus on contemporary relevance and visual language. 

Five years is quite the period to ready a musical, can you tell us about any notable hurdles or setbacks you had to overcome in that time and also any major achievements?

Five Years developing a major new musical - from first idea to first audience – is very standard. When the show title is King Kong, development time could be expected to be considerably longer. Our leading man stands 6 metres tall. We travel from the Island metropolis of New York City, via boat, to meet him on the legendary Skull Island. He steals our leading lady and climbs to the mountainous peak of the Island. We then capture him and take him back Broadway where he proceeds to tear up the Urban Jungle before finally scaling the tallest building in the world only to be ferociously shot down by airplanes… All this and more has presented an abundance of hurdles – and an equal number of joyous achievements.

What were you inspirations when it came to production design for King Kong?

There have been literally thousands…. To distill the key ones: Urban Inspirations have come from 1930’s photographers of NYC; Walker Evans, Alfred Stieglitz and Andreas Feininger, plus a raft of anonymous photographs from the period. But without doubt the most inspiring photographs have been the famous 1930’s pictures of construction workers on I-Beams hovering high above the city, taken during the construction of buildings like The Rockefeller Center and importantly the Empire State Building. These pictures capture the spirit of NYC during the Great Depression and poetically manifest some central themes of King Kong. The delightfully stylish Art Deco architecture characteristic of New York City has also been visual reference. Inspiration for Skull Island has come from a far more personal and emotional imagination of a mythical world. Ideas of nature from the cellular microcosm to the stellar macrocosm have played a part.  And all of this has been run through a modern filter inspired by digital media and MTV. 

The thrashing of the Empire State building and of course his crumbling of aeroplanes are a big ‘sell’ for fans of the original; how difficult was it to create those sets and scenes onstage for an audience who are now privy to the creative advancements of the 21st century?

As a LIVE entertainment, Theatre deals in a power of spectacle and emotion which is entirely unique and which the artificial world of CGI and 3D movie making can never achieve. Living, breathing actors, flesh and blood, an actual reality before your very eyes. No two shows are ever the same. The relationship between the stage and the audience is in real time – this is intimate, primal, almost ritualistic, storytelling. It is via the magic of this Living Art that we transport the audience to the top of the Empire State and the final heartbreaking moments of the largest simian hero of all time.

While it’s being advertised as an “exclusive Melbourne only season”, are there hopes to take the musical nationally or internationally?

Nationally, King Kong will play at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne only. But after that, the hope and intention is that the show will then move to another venue somewhere in the world. As a story so completely entwined with the city of New York it would be no surprise that the ultimate ambition is to one day make it to Broadway. As the Producer of King Kong, Carmen Pavlovic, has said; “New York is the spiritual home of King Kong”. That said, the story is also one of international renown – it is a story of humanity – to that end I believe it could potentially go anywhere on Earth.

 

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