Ned Kelly: Hero or Villain?

Matthew Ryan’s acclaimed take on the subject comes to the Gold Coast

Controversial outlaw Edward “Ned” Kelly has long fascinated and divided Australians.  Considered a folk hero by some and a murderous thug by others, the story has resonated with the general public to such a degree that even now, one hundred and thirty five years after he was hanged, you can still find a decent sized group of people who are prepared to conduct a robust discussion around the circumstances of his life and death.

No wonder the story of this iconic Irish-Australian from the 1800s has inspired numerous works of art, several films and the largest number of biographies of any person in Australia.  Many questions still remain:  Was he indeed a victim of persecution by a corrupt and bigoted police service, or simply an entitled petty thug whose crimes eventually escalated into murder and robbery?  Was he articulate spokesperson for the common folk, or a lying scoundrel?  What were the actual last words of this verbose and outspoken character, which were claimed to be unintelligible by those standing nearest him on the gallows?  The fact that his thoroughly combed-through history is unlikely to yield many further answers at this point only adds to the desire to speculate on the truth.

One of the more recent pieces of art inspired by the story of Ned Kelly is a play simply titled Kelly, by Australian playwright Matthew Ryan and director Todd MacDonald.  Having previously received critical acclaim during its world premiere season in 2012, Kelly now embarks upon a 19 weeks Australian tour from March to July in 2015.

The Gold Coast is fortunate to be among the first stops on the tour, with March 13 and 14 set for the dates that this highly anticipated piece will take the stage at the Gold Coast Arts Centre.  The play takes place inside Melbourne Gaol, where Ned Kelly sits awaiting his death sentence.  Wounded yet defiant, he is shocked to discover that a priest who has come to visit him is actually his brother Dan, previously believed to have burned to death at Glenrowan, the site of their final shootout.

Exploring the rumours of a difficult relationship between the two brothers and one theory that Dan actually escaped from the final shootout alive and fled to Queensland, this dynamic piece weaves fact, theory and fiction together to create an explosive and emotionally charged 80 minute experience.

Whether you agree with any of the “facts” presented in the play or not, the endlessly fascinating topic is bound to enthral audiences from the oldest Australians to the younger generation who may be hearing the story of the contentious bushranger for the first time.

For details and bookings, please visit


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