Playwright Matthew Ryan, having lived a few years as a child in rural Victoria surrounded by stories of the notorious Kelly Gang, grew up with a particular fascination for the intriguing figure of its leader Ned Kelly. As an adult, one central question burned in his brain – “Were you a good man, Ned?”
In Ryan’s award-winning play simply titled Kelly, this question drives every interaction, every memory, every piece of characterisation, every line. Queensland Theatre Company’s sparsely staged production needs no frills to tell its raw and brutal story, with excellent and to-the-point writing being authentically delivered by its three cast members throughout the entire 90 minute duration.
Steven Rooke is perfectly cast as the articulate and defiant anti-hero Ned, replete with bushy facial hair and razor wit. His brother Dan, played by Kevin Spink, seems to shrink in the presence of his overbearing older sibling, a relationship dynamic which is explored throughout with the use of flashbacks and clever repartee. Anthony Standish, called to play the role of guard in the present and several other flashback characters, shows impressive and lightning-quick versatility in the role.
Most notable however, is the naked emotion on constant display. The design team worked in perfect harmony to create a stark and perfectly complementary set with minimal props which served to enhance rather than distract from the action up front, providing a safe and evocative base for the actors. The cast was fearless in their delivery, and the tense direction by Todd MacDonald perfectly suits the blunt and brutal script. Without the many chuckle-worthy lines liberally sprinkled across the entire play, it would be an emotionally gruelling experience. As it stands, it is a perfectly balanced mix of humour, aggression, sadness and tension with a touch of megalomania thrown in for good measure. The question “Were you a good man, Ned?” is cleverly asked by the play rather than answered. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say there are a few possible answers from which the audience can choose the one that resonates.
With a very warm first night reception from the crowd, I don’t doubt that the remainder of Kelly‘s five month tour is going to be a smash. For those fortunate enough to have tickets for the one remaining night performance on the Gold Coast, enjoy! If you haven’t nabbed yours yet, there is only one opportunity to do so.
Tickets for Saturday 14 March are still available. Visit www.theartscentregc.com.au or call 07 5588 4000.