Sportsman’s Night

First performed at the 2000 Melbourne Fringe Festival, Sportsman’s Night continues to resonate with audiences over a decade later. After being remounted for the 2006 Adelaide Fringe the show was given a second life and has continued to tour ever since ultimately leading to the writing of a sequel ‘The Merger’ in 2010.

Inspired by the real life events of a country footy team banned by their competition for on and off field violence, Sportsman’s Night, brought Damian’s character narratives to a bigger audience.

The show resonated with football fans and haters alike as it it affectionately exposes life in a country town where footy rules all. Bodgy Creek is a town that has seen better days. The population is dwindling; the local timber industry is under threat; and now to top it all off the footy club has been banned for their involvement in a ‘harmless melee.’

To raise money for their impending legal appeal, the club has organised a “Sportsman’s Night”. A traditional social occasion best described by the 9 year old Neil Barlow as “… a night when whole lot of people who aren’t very good at sport come along to listen to people who used to be good at sport.”

It is through Neil’s innocent eyes that the story is told. As an aspiring documentary film-maker Neil films the “Sportsman’s Night”, but also takes his camera on a journey to paint a broader picture of life in a dieing town.

However, the “Sportsman’s Night” itself doesn’t follow the traditional path due mainly to the conflicting ideals of the coach and president. President Bull Barlow is a bully patriach, loved and feared by all at the club. He has brought one of the clubs former stars back to coach after a stint in the big smoke.

However Troy Carrington comes back a changed man. With new found new age sensibilities he sets about trying to change the traditionally violent and narrow mindset of the players.

2000 – Melbourne Fringe Festival [Winner – Best Comedy]
2001 – Melbourne International Comedy Festival [Nominated – Barry award]
2001 – ‘1812 Theatre’ Season
2006 – Adelaide Fringe Festival
2007 – Melbourne International Comedy Festival
2008 – Regional Arts Victoria Tour

Review 1 – Fiona Scott-Norman – The Age – April 3rd, 2001

If we are used to one thing in Melbourne it’s footy humour. If there’s one thing we are not used to, it’s subtle clever footy humour that doesn’t rely on blacking up or sarcasm.

Damian Callinan has achieved the seemingly impossible; a thoughtful, intelligent representation of a redneck, country-town footy club with a proud history of fist fights’ logging and knocking back a six pack of beer before taking the field.

Callinan, on a plain stage, plays all the characters, shifting simply and distinctly between all of them; failed new age coach Troy Carrington, the blood and guts Patriarch of the club, a spoken word performer mistakenly hired a the entertainment, an overweight jockey, and 10 year old Neil Barlow, a local lad who fancies himself as a documentary film maker.

Callinan won Best Comedy Award at last years Fringe Festival for this show and it is no wonder. This a fine, tight, substantial show, well conceived and performed. Callinan’s script exaggerates enough to be satire, but his performance is grounded and genuine, which gives the show emotional depth as well as humour.

Review 2 – Sam Stafford – Funny Tonne

Let’s get down to it. See him! See him! See him!?? Go and get your tickets now and read the rest of this review later. I had not seen a Damian Callinan show before last night although I was told for years he was very good. This period shall henceforth be referred to as ‘The Lost Years’. As the promotional material states, the premise of the show is a collection of characters from the local Bodgee Footy Club rallying to fight their ban from the local competition after a melee. While the characters are crafted with obvious affection, Callinan can also be deliciously brutal.?Those not interested in footy (mine is vague at best) should not be deterred. The Bodgee Creek football club is Australian society writ small. The only appearance of a football is in an hilarious opening balletic sequence that looked like an homage to the Scanlens Footy Card circa 1970’s. In 60 minutes (it felt like half that) Callinan introduces plenty of very funny characters with a dialogue as genuine as an overheard conversation.??The script and direction are impressively tight and he does most of it on a bare stage with a black backdrop as his only prop. This is all the more remarkable as I left the show with quite clear images of of the Bodgee Creek’s oval, main street and ‘Giant Chainsaw’ in my head.?Did I say see him already?

Review 3 – Adelaide Advertiser

Damian Callinan stood up and proved why he is one of Australia’s most successful comedians … His hilarious show was believable and well played, suggesting Callinan is a great judge of character.

Review 4 – Groggy Squirrel

To set the scene: Bodgy Creek is your generic Aussie country town, and without much else going for it, footy is life. When the town’s footy team, the Roosters, get booted out of the league, everyone pitches in to organise a sportsman’s night to raise funds for their ensuing legal battle.

Damian Callinan, not being one to make a casual entrance onto the stage – (last year he collected imaginary sperm donations from punters waiting in line) – was pacing the aisles making sure every one got a raffle ticket as they took their seats. Damian was in character even before the lights went dim and treated audience members like old friends and locals to help set the tone of the show.

We are guided through the illustrious history of the town and footy club itself in this show, through a documentary film making nine year old whose naivety clearly highlights the violent behaviour of the players that is viewed as harmless to everybody else in town.

Many different speakers take turns in reliving their respective glory days and a few of the organisers often air their disapproving opinions on the guests featured. Damian glided seamlessly through his character transitions as he fluidly transformed from one memorable larrikin to the next, minus the aid of costumes or props. This is a testament to his superb character playing skills, each one being utterly convincing.

Much humour derives from the idea of culture existing in an otherwise severely uncultured town like Bodgy Creek. The feng shui practising footy coach with more knowledge of musicals than most men would care to admit, is more than a little out of place in the town occupied predominantly by Neanderthals, whose greatest concern on the night appears to be what happened to the stripper.

The guest speakers at the sportsman’s night seemed to get increasingly inappropriate for the occasion as the show progressed. I laughed out loud at two characters in particular – a camp tennis player whose love for Jesus was rather questionable, and a contemporary “word” performance artist, which you will have to see to believe. Yet it was a surprise inclusion of an Austrian conductor that finally brings some resolution to the night.

Damian Callinan’s “Sportsman’s Night” is jam packed with hilarious and unique characters – some that are completely recognizable and others that are totally original. All will have you laughing for the entire hour.