King Kong has a Canberra accent

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YOU’VE probably been hearing about the new “King Kong” musical, now running in preview at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, and the six-metre-high silverback gorilla that takes centre stage.

Inspired by the famous 1933 film that starred Fay Wray, the new musical boasts a creative team packed with former Canberrans.

Daniel Edmonds is musical director; Queenie van de Zandt plays a newly-invented principle character, the wanderer “Cassandra”; Damien Bermingham sings; Carmen Pavlovic is producer and Derek Lynch is digital file co-ordinator.

It’s an impressive list, but most eminent of all is the show’s director of puppetry, Peter J Wilson.

Peter Wilson 4 - CRD Brett Luderman
“King Kong’s” Peter J Wilson… “It’s my role as director of puppetry to help make people believe this creature has intelligence – a brain, a heart and a mind.”

Named Canberra Artist of the Year in 1995 and Sidney Myer Individual Performing Artist of the Year in 1997, Wilson headed up Canberra’s Company Skylark, later setting up puppetry courses at the Victorian College of the Arts and directing for the Sydney 2000 Olympics and the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. Recently he has revamped his seminal show “Cho Cho San,” for the China National Theatre.

Right now Wilson is doing what he loves best, bringing a man-made creature to life – and what a creature!

“Kong” is a 1.2 tonne silverback gorilla created by animatronics whizkid Sonny Tilders, who made the creatures for “Walking with Dinosaurs”.

They experimented, visiting Werribee Zoo and sitting with the silverbacks.

“So many things that they did were familiar to us… we asked ourselves, do we want King Kong to walk across the stage? Does he climb? Does he leap? Does he lie down?

In puppetry you demystify, you break down,” Wilson says.

“He’s an extraordinary size and shape, so this creation is something that’s being talked about in the puppetry world.”

Engineers may have made Kong, but the giant ape comes to life through the automaton that moves him around the stage, the 10 puppeteers who control the legs, wrists, arms and back to give him full animation and finally, the “Voodoo”, or remote control technicians who, from the back of the theatre, give movement to his eyebrows, nose, eyes and lips.

Wilson has plainly fallen in love with his creation.

“It’s important that we empathise with the life of this beautiful creature that’s been taken out of its habitat and treated poorly – an incredible creature that is lost and lonely,” he says.

“The only person who has a connection to him is the girl he abducts and befriends, Ann Darrow, but there’s no getting away from it, King Kong is clearly black and Ann is a white-skinned blonde.

“I’ve become aware that no man has a right to destroy things that are so beautiful – this story is very relevant today and it’s my role as director of puppetry to help make people believe this creature has intelligence – a brain, a heart and a mind.”

“King Kong” at the Regent Theatre, Melbourne, until 2014, bookings to

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