Posts Tagged ‘kelly





Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

April 11 – May 2 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



I am absolutely sure – 100% sure – that it (the break down in the development of new Australian works) cannot be solved by just trying to pick winners. I don’t think that that is a viable strategy for horse racing let alone for playwriting. You need some deeper philosophical, political, social and artistic sense of what drama is if you’re going to encourage and develop Australian drama into its next diverse and myriad-formed existence.

Julian Meyrick





Drama is like the minute hand of the clock.

Julian Meyrick



I’ve been thinking about who you are, reading this blog, with pieces that are sometimes so sporadically posted I wonder that you come back at all, and I wonder what you’re seeing in between visiting here. And what does it matter, and what should become of it… I’ve been thinking about not writing but I have to, even when the process of writing something about a show sometimes takes longer than the run of a show. I love the process. I love considering what might be worth mentioning and what might be better left unsaid. I love living through the productions and reliving that journey after the curtain comes down. I love the theatre, the people involved, and this place, where I can share my experience with you, whoever you are, whatever it is you’re here for. I’m not sure what else to do with it – perhaps you have some ideas – and I keep deferring developing this site, and further study and a second blog purely for writing because I’m not sure what to do with all of THAT, what shape everything needs to take, or what any of it will do for me, or for you, but I keep coming back here, as you do, to keep some sort of quiet conversation going, perhaps just so it doesn’t stop.



{What happens when you have authority speaking about what happens in the theatre?}

We must have a cultural memory.

Alison Croggon



Over a week ago I saw Matthew Ryan’s Brisbane. Since opening night, I’ve been thinking about how we teach our children about war. It was always the part of studying ancient and modern history that I couldn’t understand. I still don’t understand it. I try to convey the respect and gratitude I feel for those who went to war to protect our right to live in a country of freedom and privilege. I have mixed feelings about teaching the pride part. I’m not even sure how I feel about my grandfather’s role in the war. This week I joined the family at his funeral, which included a full soldier’s farewell, and then I joined the local community at a traditional ANZAC Day commemorative service, sans Welcome to Country and frustratingly prayer fuelled. Okay. I know. We’re still a nation commanded by God. I should get over it. But WAR. LEARNED HATRED. FORCED, RELENTLESS, USELESS KILLING. WTF?


Over 30 000 Australian servicemen were taken prisoner in the Second World War. Two-thirds of those taken prisoner were captured by the Japanese during their advance through south-east Asia within the first weeks of 1942. While those who became prisoners of the Germans had a strong chance of returning home at the end of the war, 36 per cent of prisoners of the Japanese died in captivity.




My grandfather, Merv Henry Grulke, was a Sparrow Force guerilla soldier and a (POW) Changi survivor. He was three years off receiving his telegram from the queen when he died last week, just six months after my grandma left us. It’s a well-deserved rest for someone who, like so many, endured years of physical and mental anguish during and after the Second World War. During, after any war…


Brisbane, 1942: a big country town jumping at shadows, never knowing if that buzz in the air is a cicada or a squadron of merciless Japanese Zeroes. World War II took the city’s innocence, and that of 14-year-old Danny Fisher.

Danny’s dashing pilot brother has been killed in the Bombing of Darwin. As Danny’s devastated family unravels, the teen finds a surrogate sibling in Andy, one of the Americans stationed in Brisbane. The American pilot takes Danny under his wing, and as the tension begins to rise between the Yank and Aussie servicemen, Danny hatches a reckless revenge plan against those who took his brother.


Until I was four years old I lived in an old Queenslander just like fourteen-year-old Danny’s. (And then again during uni days, with actors, actually in Brisbane, but that’s another story). I don’t know if my memories of that first house in Emerald are from being there, or from the photos and stories stashed away in albums and minds since. I think I remember the smell of the dust, and spider webs and shadows and cricket balls and suitcases and appliances, and piles of things that didn’t belong anywhere else.




Designer, Stephen Curtis has perfectly realised the freedom, the playful sense of growing up in an old Queenslander, recreating the immense space of the high ceilinged house and its nether regions beneath. The same space becomes the famous, much loved Brisbane dance hall, Cloudland, and later across the river, the Trocadero. Lit bewitchingly by David Walters, the house itself is full of potential and/or missed opportunity, an undercurrent of the play, and underneath exists a magical space where anything is possible. No missed opportunities here, the set is in synch with every aspect of the story. There are not too many main stage productions that get it THIS right.


There is a good side to not being crushed by culture… there’s a tremendous freedom in Australian performance and a huge intelligence, and a kind of disrespect that’s really healthy.


The air is thick and wet and the sun burns your skin like it hates your guts. January’s got it in for everyone. It has a temper that builds and builds, until it’s had enough of you and dumps a mountain of water and electricity on your head to end it quick. Then it starts over again. The smell of the dirt road mixes with the pong of dead fruit that falls from the trees. Houses sit on stilts, breathing the cool air beneath them. Street after street. Streets that make up suburbs. Suburbs that make up Brisbane…


I’m sure the haters will say, “Oh, C’MON!” but for me this is magnificent, evocative, poetic writing. I love it. I love the feeeeel of it, the energy of it, the cheeky pointers and the gentle, quiet gaps, which Matthew Ryan is confident to leave for director, designer, actors and audiences to fill. I loved Kelly (currently enjoying a national tour), and Brisbane now puts Ryan in a unique position as a writer in this country, sharing our cultural and historical stories in a way we haven’t yet heard. We’ve read something like it – there are similar insightful voices on the page – but his is a theatrical narrative voice that’s refreshing and magically real on stage (and it’s so suited to Australian film; I hope we see something on screen soon). It’s a more personal, more poignant, more cleverly critical style, supporting our fondest memories and challenging notions of what’s already been recorded. The balance of light and dark is just about perfect, and except for the thank-god-bless-us-and-bathe-us-in-light moment at the end, it strikes all the right chords. (Oh dear, but that major chord! That golden light through what might as well be stained glass windows! An eye roll moment indeed!).


The text highlights the national state of mind at the time, which reflected our notions of “mateship”, machismo, fearful and unforgiving parenting, and our attitudes towards war, women and foreigners.




A comical “cringe” moment in the play (as in, “We probs shouldn’t be laughing at this”) serves to challenge our current notions too, and it reminds me of that terrible episode of Popeye, you know, The Sailor Man, which never aired but had been included in a DVD box set, which I innocently put on for Poppy one day. In Brisbane, the kids of the neighbourhood play at shooting down the Japanese, as kids were wont to do at the time. In the black & white classic series, Popeye defeats the entire Japanese army, referring to the enemy as “slant-eyed, buck-toothed, yellow-skinned Japansies”. By making light of the ugly truth about human nature it’s even more disturbing to recognise it! Still! Art is a mirror. Or a hammer… Yes. You’ve got to be carefully taught.





There musn’t be one single discourse.



These characters are so familiar yet we are able to stay safely, emotionally, distant from them. It’s the comedy and the abstractness of the storytelling, switching between real events and what Danny sees is his world that challenges us to consider another point of view. It’s magic realism at play, and it’s not to say we don’t care about them – far from it – we feel deeply for Danny (Dash Kruck), who loses his older brother, Frank (Conrad Coleby perfectly double cast as the American ex-pilot, Andy), and for Frank’s father (Hayden Spencer at his most brutal best), who essentially loses both sons when Frank dies. As for the broken mother, Annie (Veronica Neave), we recognise her deeply personal grief and the embodiment of the women of the era; their ability to pick up the pieces, step into traditionally male roles and “get on with it” while their men either crumble around them or don’t return home. It’s not entirely surprising that it’s she who finally finishes a mini reno on Frank’s room. We see similar resilience in the “big sister”, Rose (Lucy Goleby, luminescent in this role).




Kruck has been gifted the role of a lifetime in this production. Because Ryan has made the most of his knowledge of Kruck’s physicality and natural vocal cadence during the rehearsal process, the character, as it’s written, is a perfect fit. Under Iain Sinclair’s bold direction, Kruck clearly relishes the opportunity to stretch his wings. He is perfectly matched by the fierce and very funny Harriet Dyer as the best friend, the “cripple”, Patty. I adore Patty, in a way that I would never dare to in real life because I’d be terrified of her! Of course there have always been women learning on their own to be THAT strong (and THAT feared! Ha!). Kruck and Dyer and Goleby develop close connections that are highly entertaining and deeply moving. The moments of sexual awakening are hilarious and the unrequited love, treated so sensitively and tenderly, is actually heartbreaking.




Our history has such dark moments but there is good, gorgeous, wicked humour here too; the comedy is intelligently written and unashamedly playfully delivered. So much of it comes from the familiar colloquialisms and the childish behaviour of the school bullies and the country’s politicians. We enjoy razor sharp parodies of the leaders at the time, like grotesque tongue-in-cheek comic strips brought to life. This comical theatrical style, thrown casually in amongst the rest, won’t please everybody but it’s a deliberate device; it highlights the propaganda of war and lightens the heavy mood. Matthew Backer, Daniel Murphy and Hugh Parker play these multiple roles (to the hilt!), alerting us to the similarities between the bullies in government and in the street.




Nothing is lost on the opening night audience. The first reference to Cloudland is a sentence completed in an anticipatory whisper by the audience before the actor can do so and there is an awesome moment of collective pride, the nodding and smiling of people in The Playhouse as they remember… It’s a magical moment – the magic of live theatre – and it’s not lost on those who weren’t there to see the real thing. We get it.


The mere presence of new Australian work is no guarantee of cultural health; it has to be Australian work that matters.


Dramaturg, Louise Gough, has obviously had a hand in making this work one that matters. It’s one thing to be making and staging new Australian work; it’s another thing entirely to be contributing to the canon of work that informs our history. These stories have come from the truth told by so many. We must keep hearing these stories, seeing them, sharing them. We must try to learn from them. History repeats itself because we don’t learn from it! I hope this is a version of our history you’ll get to experience before it finishes here. I’ll experience it again this week with our students, and I look forward to hearing (reading, marking…) their take on it.


What is not being said, what is not being written down, what is not recorded, what is not even noticed?


Slouch hats off to QTC’s World Premiere production of Matthew Ryan’s Brisbane; it’s set to become a true blue Australian classic. You must see it.



Additional quotes taken from AUDIO | STAGE Episode 2 Alison Croggon / Writing History





Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

15th September – 20th October 2012


Reviewed by Matty Gharakhanian


Almost all of the facts in the script surrounding Ned Kelly are as true as possible. But the real history is a bit murky anyway. Keep in mind Ned was a notorious liar, mainly because most of what we have him on record as saying he was saying to the police – whom he had no qualms in lying to. And the police at that time would often lie to make themselves look better so no one really knows for sure. My goal with Ned is simply to capture the spirit of the man. To make audiences feel they’re really in the room with him. I don’t think anyone’s successfully done that yet.

The real Dan Kelly is something of a mysterious figure and there isn’t a lot of information about him in the history books. He tends to pop up in the confrontations, completely fail to do what is asked of him and Ned then has fix things. I used this idea as a building block to create the fictional character but took a lot more artistic license with him than Ned. Dan carries more of the folklore side of the story.

Do I think Dan escaped? I think it’s a fifty-fifty call. There are eye-witnesses that say he died. And there are eye-witnesses that saw Dan in the weeks after Glenrowan, heading for Queensland. There’s a grave with an unrecognizable body in it in Greta. And there are reports of a man named James Ryan out at Ipswich who claimed to be Dan and told stories about The Kelly Gang that no one else should know. I like the uncertainty of it all. It’s ripe geography for fiction. Matthew Ryan



“Shotguns and body bags.”


Directed by Todd Macdonald, Matthew Ryan’s Kelly is a brilliant re-telling of Ned Kelly’s story, played out in the outlaw’s final moments. Kelly sits in a small jail cell, drunk and feeling sorry for himself until his brother visits and their shady past comes back to haunt them.

Simone Romaniuk’s set, lit by Ben Hughes, consists of a raised square platform with a dangling cage, ceiling and a tiny bed to represent a basic jail cell.  Nothing more was needed.  Why?  The entire show was one scene.  A single 90-minute scene with rapid lines, witty repartee and a cohesive story.  Sounds boring?  Are you asking, “How could this possibly remain entertaining for that long?”  Fear not, for not a dull moment was had.  Kelly integrates fact and rumour, such as Dan Kelly’s death and homosexuality, the family history and their many run-ins with and harassment at the hands of the law.

The acoustics are exceptional and Guy Webster’s eerie soundscape complement the show and its vibe. Having a limited and minimalistic stage, the cast show us that they don’t need fancy props or an elaborate set design to tell a story.  All that is needed is a little imagination and the ability to enjoy being taken on a journey through the words of less than a handful of talented actors. Before you know it, the stage is a ghostly replica of a grimy old jail cell containing a man about to be executed.



“It’s your spirit they’re after.”


Now, if anyone reading this is sceptical about another story on Ned Kelly and the Kelly clan, they should feel free to leave said scepticism at the door.  For an old tale, this new spin on the Kelly story is nothing but fresh.  Matthew Ryan’s script is the key to this, injecting occasional humour into a play that boasts witty dialogue and a fluid, considered story.


I’m mostly known for my comedy so I think this one is going to be a shock for some people. My work tends to be very story driven. I’m very structured. I’m much more interested in the action of a piece and what’s happening between the characters than I am in any grand political explorations. I tend to just let that stuff bubble up gently. Matthew Ryan


Hugh Parker plays the role of the spiteful prison guard exceptionally well and Steven Rooke (Ned) and Leon Cain (Dan) are outstanding. Dare I say, Cain as Dan stole the show.  This production delves into the story of the weaker, lesser-known Kelly who lives in Ned’s shadow. The actors play their roles superbly, with such strong conviction.  Some throwaway lines have us chuckling while other lines leave us stunned into silence.  Their performances are intense and raw and their anger palpable and believable. Their booming voices and confident, no-holds-barred performances grasp the audience’s attention and wouldn’t let go.  Rooke is the bleary-eyed and angry imprisoned man, accepting of his fate. Cain is powerful as the complex, gutless and conflicted brother, posing as a priest and asking for forgiveness and a blessing (something that was not easy to ask for, given the circumstances).



“You came to ask a dead man for the right to live.”


Dan and Ned play the proverbial tug of war between their recollections of past events as well as who was in the right or wrong and who held the moral high ground.  They take family dysfunction to a whole new level.  Problems start seeping through the cracks in their relationship as one big issue is alluded to early on. Eventually, through conversation and re-enactments, we are taken through various moments and past events until finally, we come full circle, back to the original problem and discover the unholy truth of what happened.


The banter between Ned and Dan is based on Irish rhythms of conversation. Their parents were Irish immigrants and while there is some debate as to whether Ned himself had an Irish accent, I really wanted to capture that amazing lyrical quality of the speech patterns – if not in the actual words then at least in the pacing and timing. It seems to be in my own blood because once they started talking in that rhythm I couldn’t shut them up. Matthew Ryan


Kelly is a 90-minute roller coaster ride in a jail cell and every Australian should take it.


The Harbinger

The Harbinger

The Harbinger

La Boite Theatre Company

Written & Directed by David Morton and Matthew Ryan

Dead Puppet Society

The Roundhouse

11th August – 1st September 2012

So did you see The Harbinger in 2011? Well, this is an entirely different show. But it’s not. This is Jurassic Park. It’s Fight Club. It’s The Sixth Sense. It’s lost none of its magic if you’ve never seen it.

The Harbinger

Director, David Morton is a Rubik’s Cube. There are a couple of squares not matching up yet but when they do, when all the pieces fall into place and everything comes together, Morton will consistently create theatrical magic. One day, he’ll find his formula. He’s a genius. With a plan. We see already (Brisbane audiences have seen it several times by now), the childlike wonder and the brilliance of his ideas taking shape and we know the best is yet to come.

I have the deepest admiration for these artists, for their craft and for the magic they are able to create. Technically, the show is brilliant. Dramatically, the story (and the story within the story) is poignant. This narrative didn’t affect me as the first one did but I don’t think Harbinger Virgins will be disappointed. In fact, I’m sure they’ll be stunned. It’s a bit like Cirque du Soleil. How do they do it? How do they make the acts every bit as magical as the last time we saw them performed? They reinvent themselves. Completely. Morton gets this. Only, his indie production was offered a main stage gig based on what it was. And perhaps it’s not all it could be…yet.

Despite taking this perspective personally, this version works. It works especially well for those who haven’t yet seen, as they enter The Roundhouse, Old Albert sitting there in his chair, enormous, sleeping and breathing. The first time I saw Albert breathing I was awestruck. This time not so much. But for new audiences, the magic is certainly there from the outset, to be discovered – and delighted in – for the first time.

This version is slightly more Tim Burtonified than the last (even the marketing collateral is more reminiscent of Corpse Bride) and the whole production has a darker feel to it. Ultimately, the story that comes from Albert’s vast collection of stories, which he writes over the years, is about hope. Before we get to the hope though, there is an awful lot of hopelessness to get through.

Previously, the bulk of the storytelling was achieved using extensive shadow puppetry, which I thought extremely effective. This time, within a larger space surrounded by an assortment of some 700 books, a storm’s aftermath of loose pages and an apple tree, we see a different, smaller story told via specially designed baby bunraku puppets. A rather abrupt opening has introduced us to the enormous, tired, old mean man (manipulated by Barb Lowing, Niki-J Price, Anna Straker & Giema Contini) and to an innocent, frightened street urchin (Kathleen Iron) as she runs for her life. She is not dissimilar in her manner to Molly in Rabbit Proof Fence, so that the image of a lost Indigenous soul is, once captured, difficult to lose.

The relationship between the little girl and the old man develops over time and we see episodic scenes – his memories coming to life – with the use of puppets and props that are brought out from underneath over-sized books, which hint at a theatrical treasure trove under the stage. We witness the younger Albert (Niki-J Price) falling in love and his wife, Adelaide (Anna Straker), at first full of hope and joy, starting to suffer in her lover’s, the writer’s, inattention. She dies in childbirth and Albert stays angry and bitter for far too long.

One of the most affecting moments is when Albert stops breathing. It is stunning to see Barb Lowing relinquish control at the moment of his death and maintain her composure, standing there as the story comes to a close, just as one would if one were in attendance at the gentle expiration of a human life, with the heart and soul and wings of an angel. It was even more interesting to see Lowing – an accomplished actor – relinquish the spotlight to a puppet. But she is humble (her humility and obvious adoration for Albert makes this a truly magical theatrical human moment). This is superb casting.

On a side note, it’s certainly an interesting creative choice to give Albert a voice. I’m not sure that I liked hearing him speak – he seemed so much meaner and I liked the openness of interpretation while he had remained silent – however; he was often as funny as he was mean and it was lovely to see Lowing’s expressiveness in lieu of Albert’s. At times, I admit, I found myself watching Lowing in preference to the puppet.

The performers are impressively proficient in their manipulative skills and are able to establish a wonderful connection with each puppet and each other; their synchronised emotional shifts adding to the pathos and equally, to the humour, which is largely delivered via the little girl’s antics. Her relationship with Princess Happy (Giema Contini) is brief, fast, funny and beautifully accomplished by both performers.

Noni Harrison (Costume Design), Whitney Eglington (Technical Director & Lighting Design) and Tone Black Productions (Sound Design) combine creative forces to make this one of the best looking productions we’ve seen this year, with gothic dresses and faces, and a soundscape and lighting design from somewhere within a dream.

See this new version of The Harbinger for its whimsy, memory, beauty, mastery and a new, sharper story told in a bold new way.

The Harbinger. Image by Al Caeiro

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