By Matthew Ryan. QTC. 15 Sept – 20 Oct 2012

This provocative, engaging play may become our next Australian classic.

Compact in space and time, the action passes in Ned Kelly’s death-row cell in Melbourne Gaol shortly before his hanging. Brother Dan, whom everyone believed died in the Glenrowan fire, turns up disguised as a Chaplain to seek Ned’s forgiveness and blessing. This possibly apocryphal event provides the opportunity for author Matthew Ryan (good Irish name – he’d understand family loyalties and feuds) to examine the brotherly relationship at this critical time. Tenderness and confusion give way to bitterness that comes to blows as they rake over the coals of their turbulent past. Throughout, however, each sticks to his principles.

Wisely, Ryan uses just Kelly as the title ─ either brother could be considered the protagonist. He draws his characters powerfully, providing grist for the actors to create an engrossing mongoose-and-cobra wrangle.

Leon Cain (Dan) and Steven Rooke (Ned) – both recent Matilda Award winners – commit body and soul to the challenge. Director Todd Macdonald conducted the piece like a grand symphony, tempering light and dark sections adroitly. In that he is ably assisted by Ben Hughes’s tight lighting design and Guy Webster’s inspired compositions and sound effects.

Hugh Parker makes the most of a thankless part as Gaol Warden, doubling occasionally as third player in some exploits.

Go, you’ll expand your knowledge of the Kelly Gang legend. This is great theatre!

Jay McKee

Photographer: Rob MacColl.

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