From lime green to khaki — a Digger comes to the Fringe.
For one night only, as a charity fundraiser for Pancreatic Cancer Research, esteemed national comedian Damian Callinan trod the stage dressed in his fatigues as an Aussie icon. He portrayed a WWI army infantryman, Paddy Callinan, who also happened to be a family member. Part family history, part personal journey, part dramatic creation, ‘Damian Callinan and the Lost WWI Diary‘ was a light-hearted hour that also touched on some of Australia’s darkest military moments.
The tale is told in the same happy-go-lucky laconic spirit of many of those first Anzacs, embodying the spirit of mateship. It includes mention of the famous battles the Anzacs were renowned for: Gallipoli. Lone Pine. Pozieres. Callinan brings this larrikin character to life and adds personal touches. (This show was also created ‘solely based on [his]desire to wear military garb’.)
What began as a family conversation about a photo in the lounge of two unnamed diggers, ended up in an op shop in Warrnambool, where Callinan came across a war diary whose writer seemed strangely familiar.
Told as confessional with lots of audience interaction and humour, Callinan holds the stage as a consummate professional. Slipping in and out of the character of his great relative, Paddy Callinan, we are transported back to those early days at the outbreak of war. The story covers Paddy’s youthful enlistment, training escapades, early placements in foreign locales, interactions with people of other nationalities, until it reaches the dark days of the battlefront. At Gallipoli, Paddy declares: ‘I didn’t know what a Turk looked like until I killed one’. We move from laughter to silent reflection.
With the sparest of sets, Callinan skips and leaps about with pleasure. Even into the audience! Employing both slapstick punning and physical theatre comedy, Callinan delights in speaking crudely and pulling people’s legs — even those of handpicked audience members (one of whose name’s is woven into the stage story itself). Performing dances and imitations of the rituals of male military fraternity — the slang, the humiliations, the bonding — we see clearly the isolated world these young sons of Empire found themselves awake in.
With many close friends and family in the audience, it was an intimate night with many a loud laugh, ending with a touching salute to their friend lost recently to cancer, and to the memory of Paddy himself.
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 is always looking for quality works that push the envelope!
‘Damian Callinan in the Lost WWI Diary’ played for one night 29 September (75mins) at Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club- Main Theatre, North Melbourne.
The venue is wheelchair accessible.
For more Melbourne Fringe 20016, check out our guide and all our reviews.