The first question that always springs to mind when yet another Kelly Gang story is released, is do we need another Kelly Gang story? If this question is being asked of Matthew Ryan’s latest script Kelly, now playing at the Cremorne Theatre and presented by Queensland Theatre Company, the answer is yes, yes and more yes!
Kelly is a slick and impressive production and the creative team, led by Director Todd MacDonald, have nailed every single element of its design from script to sound and stage.
On entry to the raw little wonder that is the Cremorne, one is confronted with a slightly unusual setup. A very small, simple raised square platform that leaves room for extra audience seating to crowd in around it; it is the cell of Kelly, and the night before his execution; bare but for a bench and a blanket, a low slung metal grated roof and a guard walk suspended above it. It’s quite amazing how designer, Simone Romaniuk’s opened walled, minimalistic set could feel so close and claustrophobic in a room of a couple of hundred people – I could smell the ghost of the Melbourne goal. If it wasn’t for a certain je ne sais quoi, I would have been worried as to whether the cast could pull off such a challenging stage but there was an immediate buzz, an atmosphere that told me this was going to be something great. Guy Webster’s eerie sound design and the quality of the sound (it was like a surround sound cinema) set the mood well before anyone even set foot on stage.
For an hour and half, two men (the third, Hugh Parker was the perfect spiteful prison guard, but the night really belonged to the exceptional talents of Steven Rooke (Ned) and Leon Cain (Dan), kept the audience absolutely riveted with their powerful voices, impeccable presence and professional style as they explored the relationship between the Kelly brothers, the myth of Dan Kelly’s death, homosexuality and rumoured resurrection in Queensland, and the delicate balance between Ned Kelly the hero and Ned Kelly the villain and finally, Dan the invisible – he screams ‘I am Dan Kelly’ but no-body listens, let alone believes him. This story, although centred on Ned’s last night in his cell, is more Dan’s story. For the first time in a visit with the Kelly Gang, we really delve into the story of the younger, weaker, less famous brother. Dan forever lives on in Ned’s shadow and Ned hates him for it.
Believed to have perished at the Glenrowan show down between the Kelly Gang, their hostages and the Police, Dan, dressed as priest, gains entry to Ned’s cell on the night before he is to be hanged. He has come for Ned’s blessing to run away to Queensland, to desert their family and move on with his life but an unrelenting Ned has questions he wants answered by his gutless younger brother — how did Steve Hart die?
Matthew Ryan is an impressive writer and surely must have a pinch of the obsessive compulsive, as Kelly, which took four years to write, is perfectly polished down to every single word. It’s a magnificent piece.
At $65 for a full price ticket, Kelly is not a cheap affair, but no-one will regret lashing out to see this outstanding production. Why not really lash out and, since you’re in the neighbourhood have dinner at one of the many Southbank restaurants which are just a short stroll from the Cremorne (my picked of them this month is Obsession, possibly the best Chinese food in town). Kelly is playing now until 20 September at the Cremorne.