A music theatre burlesque based on the real life King O'Malley, a Texan born banker, real estate salesman, insurance agent, and founder of a religious movement, who came to Australia in 1893 under the belief that he was dying of consumption. After arriving at Emu Bay, Queensland, O'Malley spent some two years living in a cave before eventually walking from Rockhampton, seemingly cured of the disease, all the way to Adelaide. He became the MHA of Encounter Bay (South Australia) up until 1899, then a member of the House of Representatives (1901-17), in addition to undertaking the position of Minister for Home Affairs (1910-13, 1915-16). He retired from politics in 1917. O'Malley is also recognised for his role in opening the trans-continental railway and for his significant input into Labour reform and social legislation during the early decades of the twentieth century.
Ellis and Boddy portray O'Malley as a doubtful, though likeable/heroic, character whose early schemes are seen to mock several social institutions. In the first part of the play we encounter the loud-mouthed O'Malley leaving for Australia (accompanied by Mr Angel, a devil who acts as his spirit of conscience). In line with the real historical account O'Malley is also seen befriending the aborigines and standing for parliament. In the second part a debate begins between O'Malley and Billy Hughes, with the visionary O'Malley battling for several future initiatives, while Hughes argues for conscription. At this point the ensemble of actors take on a variety of roles, notably embers of parliament, as they satirise the image of these 'honourable representatives of government'.
The Legend Of King O'Malley has been described by Leonard Radic as : 'a rumbustious piece of musical theatre... [drawing] consciously on the traditions of panto, music hall, revue and vaudeville. The script [includes] hymns, songs, a revivalist meeting and a pageant or two... the result was a piece of pastiche theatre which explored its subject with larrikin abandon, and without concessions to good taste or manners' (State of Play 1991, p70). The musical element of the play, according to its authors, is 'a bit of a grab-bag. This is not a musical,' they write in the 1974 Angus and Robertson edition, ' it is a play with music.... use as few or as many of the [songs] as you like; and put in your own favourites if you wish. "Happy Land," "In the Service of the King," and "Hold the Fort," should be used where marked" (xxii). Other songs suggested, and which were used in the original Jane Street production include: 'I Surrender All', 'Go Little Pennies', 'Wonderful Words of Life', 'Lead on King Eternal', 'I've Found a Friend', 'Go Tell it to Jesus', 'What a Friend', 'Hey There! You're an Australian', and 'Onward Christian Soldiers'.
First produced by the National Institute of Dramatic Arts students in association with the Jane Street Theatre, Sydney, June 1970. The play has since been staged many times around the country. Some notable productions include : The Old Tote Theatre Company (1970, cast and production mostly as for the Jane Street production) ; the 1970 Australian tour by NIDA ; and the Royal Queensland Theatre Company (Brisbane, 1971).
Performed at La Mama Theatre from 9-20 April 2014