One of this country’s most famous icons, Edward (Ned) Kelly’s story was brought to life in song and words in Groaning Dam’s Ned: A New Australian Musical In Concert in Melbourne. Originally shown in 2015 in Bendigo to rave reviews, this energetic work is a first-class piece of theatre, whose telling could stand on any stage in the world and captivate. It’s told here with Aussie attitude and ribald performances which hold the heart of the case on high.
Ned’s life story has epic and classical tragedy in its DNA. The story of the Kelly gang is sacred myth for Australians, reminding us of colonial flashpoints from which our national identity sprang. Comprising high drama and pathos, its finale is a fable fought out in the Northern Victorian bush, and this lively version places us in Kelly country, as we follow his travails, terminating inside the bluestone of Old Melbourne Gaol in 1888.
Composer Adam Lyon, with writers Anna Lyon and Marc McIntyre, deliver historical accuracy through well-placed drama. We learn of friendships, flirtations and grudges, and of the schism between rulers and the ruled in this regional post of Empire. 21 new songs are performed by a 20-piece on stage orchestra, with a lead cast of 14 supported by an ensemble chorus of 14, each in vibrant era costuming. This show tells these lads’ stories through song, acting, dance, and spoken word, much as any Irish locals might have round the campfire or at the pub. The musical standard is first class with high-calibre acting performances whose voices thrilled the audience who gave a standing ovation.
In the Kelly household, we see the tough life of the rural poor, many Irish emigrating as cheap labour. With underhand activities a part of everyday life, Ned and his ‘gang’ form an alternate society. Women managed these homes and Ned’s mother, Ellen, is starkly drawn, dominating her son’s narrative, as well as his sister Kate figuring in the interest of an English officer, FitzPatrick. These staunch women anchor these young men’s journeys.
There are many stirring songs, one reprised by Ellen, in Gaol herself, where Ned is sentenced to hanging. The music carries us through these touch points, evoking the roil of violins on a bush night, the dance of the young and the call for independence and civil rights. ‘Life’s A Road’, ‘White Dove’ and ‘A Woman’s Hand’ are standout blockbusters! These heartfelt renditions allow these people to walk out of history t show their case before we judge or condemn.
We observe the countdown to the final battle nervously, as those in Glenrowan did. Ned’s foolhardy plans involve bank heists, murder, train derailments and the final police ambush with him in his makeshift armour, silhouetted above the stage. His notorious hanging is depicted with famous last words. This is the material of Hollywood movies and classical drama.
Groaning Dam’s show does the nation, and Ned, proud. It captures his personal story. When Kelly died, he became a martyr to the cause of the marginalised — he has long been held a hero. The ghost of Kelly will never die, and this rollicking musical brings his case to life once more for us with aplomb. Feel the beat of young feet that stamped and trod our same terrain, in search of a better life.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
Visit the Facebook page Ned. A New Australian Musical for cast recording CD purchase and for future tour dates.