A Fringe festival provides space for … shall we say … unusual ways of telling stories. Imagine an alternative Australian history where a gang of outlaws, played by drag kings, want to secede from the colony of Victoria so they can live and love as they like. That’s the gist of Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical – a spectacular of camp costumes, rocking live tunes, and sticking it to whomever will take it.
It’s around 1878 in Victoria, and those of Irish descent regularly feel harassed by the police. Ned Kelly (Ellen Marning) has had enough. He’s formed a (colourful) gang with younger brother Dan (Monique Kerr), Joseph (Joe) Byrne (Erin McIntosh) and the youngster Steve Hart (Sunny Youngsmith). We’re introduced to the bushrangers (and their pronouns) through song, because “Fuck the binary”.
The Kelly gang are making their way to Victoria’s northeast so that they can establish the Queerdom of Slaytoria. Emboldened by glitter, some kind of beard, and dance moves, they’ll still have to confront the police and the regal figure who commands them – all played with a suitable scorn or pomp by Sian Dowler.
Events that could be supernatural, low-brow, sexy, ridiculous, or a combination of many such terms, deliver a barrage of plot twists in this adventure tale that’s also about relationships.
As much fun as it often was, there’s the odd snag. This is a true musical, with plot points delivered through song. Whilst all players sang well, there was a tendency for the lowest notes to get lost in the mix. I suspect some of us in the crowd missed out on a decent number of jokes.
Kaine Hansen wrote the show, and also played electric bass with other members of The Glenrowans: Griff McGookin (drums), Patrick Ware (lead guitar) and Salvador Peralta (rhythm guitar). The band entered into the spirit of proceedings, performing in black dresses. Given the story, possible influences on the soundtrack like Rage Against the Machine seem appropriate.
Those keen on a bending of gender, history, or the laws of physics in the bush will find much to like in this hour of committed performances, original songs, and patriarchy fighting. The regular season has almost finished, but there’s a final, extended show at 11.00pm on Friday 20 October that will (somehow) feature various drag guest stars.
Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical
Festival Hub: Trades Hall – Quilt Room, Corner Lygon & Victoria Streets, Carlton
Performance: Sunday 15 October 2023
Season continues to 20 October 2023
Information and Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au
Image: Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical – photo by Liv Morison
Review: Jason Whyte