Review by Astrid Paliouras
There is something so incredibly healing and heartwarming about queer retellings of history, even more so Australian history and Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical is no exception. A part of this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival program, it's a new and original musical directed and written by Kaine Hansen telling the story of The Kelly Gang as they explore gender and sexuality in heteronormative times.
The first thing audiences’ attention is captured by is the melodies of the band playing as they enter, and this captivation is something the band manages to maintain the entire time. They play the show’s original score with more of a rock vibe flawlessly while still getting involved with the dialogue occasionally and playing a strong role in the plot, making it so entertaining and alluring to watch them do their thing.
The staging is simple yet effective, with no structured set but the utilisation of props. The costuming is also incredibly useful as a storytelling device - with each character wearing a monochromatic look in their individual colour that makes following the plot and characters incredibly accessible. Each design choice matches the needs of the show perfectly and creates a vibe that suits the era and retelling.
Despite the simpler production design, nothing is confusing or unbelievable as the cast does an incredible job of bringing their characters and the story to life. Dan (Monique Kerr) was an absolute standout with Kerr’s incredible vocals and perfectly portrayed attitude. Their onstage chemistry with Steve (Sunny Youngsmith) was incredibly entertaining. Additionally, the vocal strength and turmoil portrayed by Joe (Erin McIntosh) in “Dear Diary, F*@# You'' is so powerful and made it one of the most driven and powerful numbers in the show. The spectrum of emotions shown by Ned (Ellen Marning) is so exciting to watch and she does an incredible job of portraying conflict and pain. Finally, the absolute star of the show has to be Sian Dowler in their immaculate portrayal of the show’s diary, bank teller, leprechaun, various police officers, and most notably Queen Victoria. Their ability to switch between characters flawlessly truly makes the show what it is and their versatility as an actor is incredible. On top of all their incredible individual performances, each of the cast work amazingly together and the ensemble numbers bring a real sense of friendship and joy to the show.
However, it is impossible to overlook the slight disappointment of the lack of regularly performing Drag Kings in the cast, despite the show utilising so many aspects of the artform. The nature of the show provided ample opportunity to uplift and highlight the thriving and talented Drag King community in Naarm, so it is disheartening to see a show of which King Drag plays such a vital role not ensuring that more kings are in the spotlight. This show is already so incredible, but the presence of regularly performing kings in the cast could have enriched it even more.
Despite that, the show is truly filled with so much necessary joy and to see history being rewritten through such a creative and queer perspective is incredibly heart-warming and fun to watch. Running until the 23rd, this piece of queer joy is an important and unmissable to this year’s MICF program.