Australia: My memorable date with great ape

By Colin Mathura-Jeffree

Meeting great apes is a dream realised, writes Colin Mathura-Jeffree.

Colin Mathura-Jeffree is starstruck by King Kong, star of the Melbourne musical of the same name. Photo  / Elizabeth Xue Bai
Colin Mathura-Jeffree is starstruck by King Kong, star of the Melbourne musical of the same name. Photo / Elizabeth Xue Bai

As a child, I watched the original 1933 King Kong movie, which featured men firing rifles at snarling, tail-lashing dinosaurs. There were lots of crazy native racist cliches as the screaming blonde Fay Wray was held in the clutches of the beast.

I was a boy and I was enthralled.

Now, 35 years later, I discover some genius in Melbourne is bringing the classic to the stage.

Well, obviously this production is going to be faboosh. And, because I am the host of New Zealand's hottest, naughtiest cooking show I'm to be given whirlwind VIP treatment.

But what to wear?

Luckily the solution arrives with an invitation to chic Melbourne fashion house Et Al Studio. The rack is heaving with Et Al's latest collection, Skulking Magpie, in every shade of black.

House designer, and winner of Project Runway Australia 2009, Anthony Capon looks at me as only a designer can, deciding if I make the grade to be clothed in his brand. As a former runway model, I know the look all too well. Then he smiles and says, "None of those clothes will fit you ... you're so ... broad!"

I can't resist laughing; he makes me feel like I'm built like an All Black.

He whips downstairs to find something for me. The clothes are perfect. Luxury is an understatement. Et Al is all about the mystery of the layered silhouette. I fall into my old modelling default behaviour ... flirting with everyone in the room because I feel so damn good.

For the finishing flourish, Anthony suggests I get some rings from Lord Coconut - aka Mark Boldiston - and his artisan store of accessories for Melbourne gentlemen. He's right; these handcrafted designer rings really do add the finishing flourish to my outfit.

My attire sorted, I can rest easy. Which is just as well as every second of my time in Melbourne is taken up by what's haute in this amazing city. But on this day I have reserved time for King Kong and I have requested something special: to go backstage and see the beast up close. It is a big ask but I'm hardly a wallflower - the worst that would happen is they'd say no.

They say YES! And at precisely 4.15pm I am at Melbourne's majestic Regent Theatre to meet the cast, the puppeteers and King Kong himself. We are ushered to the stalls and I gasp out loud because on the stage, surrounded by people, towers King Kong. He is huge and looking my way and he's growling! I can barely take my eyes off Kong. (In retrospect I could've conducted myself more like a sophisticated TV personality with great hair and less like an awestruck 10-year-old.)

When I do manage to compose myself, others in the show admit they also are struck by his awesomeness.

I meet company member Travis Khan, a Kiwi who is introduced as a rising star; and Troy Phillips, an international performer/choreographer. The two describe how everyone works together as a cohesive team.

Then it's time for me to leave as the rest of the cast start arriving ... Esther Hannaford with her huge hair, Adam Lyon and Queenie van de Zandt.

Photo / Elizabeth Xue Bai
Photo / Elizabeth Xue Bai

Getting ready is a breeze - I feel like I'm going to the Oscars, only in Melbourne, as I sip champagne at Crown Metropol Bar with its great city views.

Told my transport has arrived, I don't expect to see Classic Carriages' horse-drawn carriage.

Oh my, I love horses and I feel like a maharajah from a bygone age as children wave at me from passing cars and we arrive at the Regent where the audience is dressed to the nines.

But where do I start to describe King Kong? This show stands alone; it is an assault on the senses. I laugh, cringe, feel fury, delight, fear and sorrow.

King Kong is a masterpiece, from the light show through to the altered-reality projection design; from the dazzling scenes to the fresh, engaging score. The costumes and choreography are outrageous - I love the chorus girls wiggling seductively.

Hannaford transforms into the waif Ann Darrow romanced by man and beast.

Chris Ryan is first mate Jack Driscoll - the rich boy falling for the distressed damsel in the most unlikely three's-a-crowd scenario. Lyon becomes Carl Denham, a man of few ethics. I hate his character; he plays his role well. And Van de Zandt as Cassandra is a real presence on stage.

But the true star - the good guy misunderstood - is King Kong and his "King's men" acrobatically flying all over him to create those realistic energetic movements or that face of a million expressions.

As Kong lies dead on the stage I rise to my feet for a standing ovation for all the effort and magic I have seen. Huge recognition must go to every single person involved. Director Daniel Kramer is a genius in his vision and creature designer Sonny Tilders has recreated life itself.

By the time you read this, Global Creatures' musical King Kong will have done 100 shows - that means 200,000 people have experienced what I can describe only as a triumph of theatre, five years in development.

Show season in Melbourne

• Melbourne Festival runs from October 11-27 and features performances, films and exhibitions by Australian and international artists. From theatre such as the dynamic The Rite of Spring/Petrushka to dance by the captivating Hofesh Shechter Company and a special kids' programme ... for more information go to melbournefestival.com.au

• Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced, October 30 to November 17, Comedy Theatre.

• Russian National Ballet's Swan Lake, October 31 to November 2, Her Majesty's Theatre.

Designing 007 - Fifty Years of Bond Style exhibition, from November 1, Melbourne Museum

Grease The Musical from January 4, 2014, Her Majesty's Theatre

Top shopping

Gertrude St, Fitzroy: Original labels, great cafes, bars and restaurants and plenty of charm.

Crossley St, Melbourne CBD: Fashion, jewellery, vintage homewares, even a traditional men's tailor. Visit Von Haus bar.

Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD: Exclusive local crafts, many fashion outlets, awesome cafes and dozens of galleries.

High St, Armadale: Flagship fashion stores make High St noticeably cool.

Chapel St, Prahran and Windsor: Discover new funky retailers in Prahran and Windsor and wander down the side streets.

Laneways: Melbourne's laneways are cosy, narrow streets where mainstream culture steps aside for one-off boutiques, galleries, tiny cafes and unexpected bars. Explore Hosier Lane, Degraves St, Centre Pl and Royal Arcade.

IF YOU GO

Getting there: Fly there with Air New Zealand.

Find out more at: Australia.com and Visitmelbourne.com.

Colin Mathura-Jeffree travelled with the assistance of Air New Zealand and Tourism Victoria. For more information on similar holidays see Explore - Shopping and shows.

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