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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 02:21 GMT
Kelly's comeback performance
By David Cairns
BBC News

Matthew Kelly
Matthew Kelly had the audience on his side
TV presenter Matthew Kelly has appeared on stage in John Steinbeck's play Of Mice and Men, at Darlington's Civic Theatre, County Durham. It is his first performance since police said they were taking no action over an allegation of sexual abuse against a young boy.

The TV crews arrived around noon at Darlington's Civic Theatre in the vain hope of interviewing Kelly.

But it was not until evening he told several hundred people: "I ain't gonna say nothing."

By this time of course he was in character as Lennie in Birmingham Rep's production of John Steinbeck's American classic Of Mice and Men, and on stage again for the first time since he was cleared of sex abuse charges.

The media attention did not end at the door - a paparazzo with zoom lens was asked to leave the theatre moments into the first act.

Gentle giant

Matthew Kelly is not a bad actor - in fact he is good.

With 14 years' stage and television experience before he became a presenter, he is no celebrity lightweight floundering out of his depth on stage.

His physical acting is superb and physically he is ideal for the part of gentle giant Lennie.

At 6ft 6" Kelly is a huge man, and with his familiar beard shaved, turns out to have a lugubrious, dimpled slab of a face.

Matthew Kelly
The TV star has also appeared in pantomime
His physical bearing creates pathos right from his first appearance in silhouette on the stage, and there is genuine beauty in the delicacy with which the bulky Lennie pets his beloved mice.

But it would stretch the talents of an Olivier to engage with an audience comprised largely of sceptical, recalcitrant teenagers.

As Of Mice and Men is a GCSE set text, this school-trip audience is exactly what Kelly has to contend with.

They laugh at the jokes, but they also laugh at every tense moment - even the climactic murder scene and perhaps this is partly Kelly's fault.

He is a likeable, camp presence in light entertainment television, and makes a likeable, camp Lennie, but likeable is as far as it goes.

Kelly's anger lacks conviction, and he does not bring the innocence and sweetness to the part it demands.

If he is nervous about returning to the stage however, it does not show in his performance

First night hiccups

However George Costigan who plays Lennie's brother George does seem ill at ease, unconvincing and almost amateurish.

The feeling of watching a very good amateur production was increased on this first night of the run by a set door which would not stay shut, despite increasingly farcical attempts to close it by cast members, culminating in Costigan leaning awkwardly against it while delivering his lines.

The best performances come not from the crowd-drawing Kelly and Costigan, but from the supporting cast: Neil Phillips' brutish Carlson, and David Sterne's poignant Candy are impressive.

Kelly has the audience on his side before he even steps on stage, and the affection in which he is held shows itself in spontaneous applause, which interrupts the second-act fight at the moment when Lennie starts to win.

The most moving and dramatic moment of this comeback performance came during the four curtain calls, when a smiling and visibly emotional Kelly was given a standing ovation by his fellow cast members and much of the audience.




SEE ALSO:
Cleared Kelly appears on stage
25 Feb 03 |  England
Kelly's fight back to fame
24 Feb 03 |  Entertainment
Star with bittersweet take on fame
24 Feb 03 |  Entertainment


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