In 2017 Playwright, poet and tennis coach Kieran Carroll approached Damian Callinan about helping him adapt a 5 actor play, that he had written about Australian tennis legend John Newcombe, into a one actor play. After a couple of years of back and forth with Keiran working on the script with Damian’s input from experience in the solo show format, the piece took shape and made its stage debut at The Butterfly Club in January 2019.
Carrol’s writing is nostalgic, poetic and effortlessly takes the audience back to the lawn courts at Kooyong, the famed corridors of Wimbledon in the early 70’s and pool parties at Texan tennis ranches.
Set at Newk’s 70th birthday party in Sydney, Newcombe’s journey travels from naive 60’s schoolboy to the number one player in the world in the 70’s, to his days as Davis Cup captain to the stroke he suffered in 2003. Numerous well known guests drop by to celebrate the special day and share their memories. Both drama and comedy, the play portrays a highly determined and ambitious man burning through a quickly changing world. Aware that he’s putting his family second emotionally, while conscious of providing for them financially, the play exposes the exhausting schedule that even players of yesteryear endured. Volatile off court politics are also rife, as the game moves into full-blown professionalism. The play also captures hilarious moments from some of Newcombe’s many commercials and business enterprises: Cinzano; Queensland Bananas; K-Tel Instruction albums. Newk is a grand story about wanting life to be a huge ride, where rest is secondary and finally how the zest and appetite for life never disappears, but has to be tempered.
Mick Pacholli – Toorak Times – January 2019
Tennis is one of the big entertainments for Melbourne at this time of year and one name rings louder in our memories of the sport than any other, and John Newcombe is that name!
Its 2014 and Newk is throwing a 70th birthday party and many of his old tennis mates and new are arriving peppered with the odd phone call from well-wishers that can’t make the festivities.
Barry Award nominee Damian Callinan (The Merger, Wine Bluffs, Swing Man), burst through the curtain and welcomes us warmly as the first arrivals and cheerfully regales us with the ultimate Cinzano mix to refresh our senses.
I loved the way Damian really struck a chord, dragging the almost sellout audience willingly into the story and as the performance continued the audience became ever more ready to feel a part of this show in the presence of the great man..
Award-winning Melbourne playwright, Kieran Carroll has really nailed this one, his NEWK! tells the story of the trials and tribulations of Newk’s career and his relationship, and the ultimate glories of his many successes. Kieran weaves the story between the emotional struggles after his father’s death, the love of his life and self-awareness as an aging player, smattered with belly laugh engendering moments as we recognize those images of Newk embedded on our sporting consciousness.
A wonderful one man show with perfect timing during the Oz Open, so get along to the Butterfly Club or The Kingston Centre to this rollicking journey through John Newcombe’s life!
What Did She Think? – January 2019
Melbourne is all about tennis this fortnight, but not all the action is happening at Melbourne Park. If you pop in to The Butterfly Club for a cocktail (the Newcano is very dry and extremely awesome) you can hear a great Aussie tennis story performed by a great Aussie storyteller as Callinan embodies John Newcombe in Newk! (The John Newcombe Story).
Newcombe now resides in Texas at his tennis ranch for the most part these days so we don’t hear much about him in the tennis broadcasts anymore. At one point though he was a powerhouse of Australian tennis. Across his career he won 7 singles championships and 17 doubles championships and has played the likes of Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and the list goes on. His playing career spanned 1963 – 1978, after which he went on to captain the Australian Davis Cup team for five years and is an Australian Living Treasure as well as being inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Carroll’s long form monologue encompasses not only Newcombe’s professional success, but is also a fun portrait of his private excesses and a heart warming insight into his personal life as he invites the elite of the tennis community – old and new – to a backyard barbeque to celebrate his 70th birthday. Newk! is actually an adaptation of a full two act play penned by Carroll in 2014 and I encourage people to have a read (and perhaps stage it?). As much fun as Newk! is, the play digs deeper and we find out a lot more about his wife, Angie and the other people in his life.
Callinan is the perfect choice to play this member of the Australian 70’s moustachioed sports elite. To the lay person it is kind of hard to tell the difference between Newcombe, the Chappells, and Barassi…
I don’t know anyone who pulls off that dinky di Aussie sportsman persona on stage with as much aunthenticity and respect as Callinan. Callinan loves a larrikin and whilst Australia and Australians are moving on, it is nice to be reminded of those good old days with just enough of a nod to remember why we have moved on
In Newk! Newcombe is portrayed as a hard playing, hard drinking kinda bloke who only loses when blood is left on the court. Interestingly, Newcombe is renowned for his intense mental focus so when Callinan shows us a heavy binge and talks about how the next morning Newk will be up at 6am for a 5 km hill run before a 5 hour training session it is fascinatingly believable. Not many people can do the one and then the other!
Newcombe made a lot of money from endorsements and whilst, as a child, I only knew tennis players names because they were on the back of cereal boxes, I do remember his advertising classics. Who can forget the toast ‘cin cin’, or ‘avagoodweegend’, and who didn’t want to sleep on a Miracoil?
Newk! shifts between time much like a tennis game changes lead, and for the most part extremely successfully and with little confusion. I perhaps would have liked Callinan to embrace a more energetic physicality when playing Newk in his prime, but it is not a big issue.
Carroll has paid wonderful attention to detail with props and costumes. Everything from the King Gee shorts, the vintage Slazenger, and the bar lined with Cinzano and Kirks.
Between Callinan’s earnest, dry and inclusive performance and Carroll’s attention to detail, Newk! is a wonderful show full of memorabilia and belly laughs. You will remember things you didn’t even realize you knew as you travel down one of Australia’s iconistic paths. There is no more perfect time than now to pop into The Butterfly Club, down a couple of Newcanoes and have a good laugh with an old friend, John Newcombe, before watching your next match at the Australian Open.