The Lost WW1 Diary

Inspired by his appetite for reading on the subject of Australia’s involvement in WW1, Damian became fascinated by the diaries of the men at the front. Rich in vernacular, sparse in emotional detail and comedically dry in tone, the memoirs and notes of those in active service told a different story to those contained in the academic tomes of historians. Feeling this aspect of the story had been less well mined on stage, Damian set about creating a fictional diary that captured this style of historic storytelling. The diaries themselves fluctuated in tone from the mundane to the hilarious, the tragic to the trivial. The result is disarmingly frank as one page the reader is absorbing a list of what a Red Cross package contains and the next they learn that the writer’s best friend was blown to pieces in front of them.

At the time the show idea was ruminating, Damian was approached by the Lighthouse Theatre in Warrnambool about working on a collaboration: The subject to be of his own choosing. Using their venue as a development space and with a promise to to perform a season on site, Damian the decided to place the main characters in the piece in the western Districts of Victoria. It not only honed his point of research, but gave authenticity as the recruitment of the AIF was geographical. All lads from the Warrnambool area either joined the 7th Battalion or the 2nd Light Horse. Thus Paddy Callinan, the protagonist & narrator of the show was born.

The Lost WW1 Diary had overlapping concurrent premiere seasons in 2014 at The Lighthouse Theatre, Warrnambool & at ACMI for MICF. In 2015 the show really hits its straps with a string of 5 star reviews at Perth & Adelaide Fringe before touring throughout Australia. In 2017 the show was chosen to be studied on The VCE playlist leading yer another remounted season. The Lost WW1 Diary is a showcase of Callinan’s talents as a writer & character actor capable of swinging from farce to pathos in a breath. It sits high on the list of his most loved and crucially acclaimed works.

Obsessed from a young age by the Anzac legend and intrigued by the mystery surrounding the identity of two diggers from a family photo, Damian sets out on a quest to put names to the faces. Whilst holidaying in Warrnambool, a series of curious events lead him to the discovery of a war diary in an opp shop that may finally link him to the legend.

A renowned stand up and character comedian, Callinan [Backyard Ashes, Spicks & Specks, skithouse, 774ABC] brings to life the pages of the diary as we meet Paddy Callinan and his ‘push’ as they set off for ‘The Big Show.’

Along the way we meet Stanza the prankster poet, Bluey the outspoken union leader, Mocka the mumbling ladies man, Depot the scrounger and Pirate whose ability to talk could be the weapon that turns the war.

Callinan combines detailed research, hilarious but believable characterisations, black humour, absurdity and deft writing to swing the mood of the story from rollicking farce to aching pathos in a heart beat.

Actual events are woven into the tapestry of the narrative to put a new spin on history: Depot sells a pantomime donkey costume to Simpson, the lads give a scathing review of a German painting found in a trench attributed to a Corporal Adolf H and a game of cricket in the trenches leads to the first trans-Tasman underarm bowling incident.

The Lost WW1 Diary is fresh take on the generation who travelled across the world to war and discovered along the way that it’s a long way to Tipperary without a GPS.

‘This is a cleverly written and pitch-perfect delivery of a piece of theatre … the humour, is topical, witty and best of all, it feels real.’ – Herald Sun – 4 stars

“Some performances move you with such force they’re in your thoughts well after the theatre lights dim and you’ve left the venue. This is one of them… We laughed, we gasped and wiped tears from our eyes. Memorable, moving, brilliant.” ★★★★★ – Katie Spain, The Advertiser (Adelaide 2015)

2014 – Melbourne International Comedy Festival @ ACMI
2014 – Lighthouse Theatre, Warrnambool season
2015 – Perth Fringeworld @ Noodle Palace [nominated for Best Comedy]
2015 – Adelaide Fringe @ Bakehouse Theatre
2015 – Melbourne International Comedy Festival @ Melbourne Town Hall
2015 – Regional Arts Victoria Tour – Victoria & Tasmania
2015 – Country Arts WA Tour
2015 – Southern Tasmanian Tour
2015 – Show Filming @ Bakehouse Theatre
2017 – VCE Drama Playlist Tour
2017 – Elysium theatre @ Sandgate Town Hall
2017 – Tongala Town Hall
2018 – Polish Club, Hobart

Adelaide advertiser – Katie Spain – 5 stars

Some performances move you with such force they’re in your thoughts well after the theatre lights dim and you’ve left the venue. This is one of them.

Comedian Damian Callinan delivers a laugh-packed show about a very serious topic — war. Based on the discovery of a diary in a Warrnambool op-shop, it is the story of Paddy, a young Australian who sets off to serve in World War One.

His journey broaches rocky waters, the blood-soaked shore of Gallipoli, loss, love and the endearing larrikin nature of young lads far from home.

Callinan moves between soldiers with convincing characterisation, deft use of black humour and an impressive collection of vintage headgear.

His self-confessed obsession with war, deep respect for the Anzacs and extensive research make this a respectful tribute to history and those lost. Audience interaction is faultless.

We laughed, we gasped and wiped tears from our eyes. Memorable, moving, brilliant.

Australian Stage – Claire Condry – 5 stars plus

Most people know accomplished stand-up comedian Damien Callinan as a frequently seen guest on tv shows like Skithouse and Spicks and Specks.

I fervently hope that the title and content of his one man show does not deter audience members. What could possibly be funny about World War 1? Amazingly there is plenty to laugh about. This is a brilliantly written and wonderfully performed show from Callinan.

After a clever introduction on the set of a war time movie he progresses to the op-shop discovery of the diary. As he narrates parts of the days and years of war service Callinan assumes the persona of the diarist and the characters of the army mates in his “push”.

There’s been a lot of attention given to World War 1 with the Anzac Gallipoli 100 year anniversary this year. This work is the best tribute to those events I have seen. The Australian larrikin sense of humour and deadpan comedy is so real and familiar.

The story follows the progress of the country boy volunteer through departure by sea, action in the Turkish battlefield, repatriation to a London hospital for the wounded, service in France and finally his return to home.

Obviously there are moments of pathos as well as the hilarious characterisations of the scurrilous crew. Callinan reveals fine acting skills as well as the peerless comic timing for which he is known.

Dressed in simple period army attire with a couple of khaki draped seats he worked the tented theatre impeccably, even cajoling some audience members to become whales during the long sea voyages. They loved it. The audience adored it.

Spontaneous applause broke out at minor triumphs and particularly droll conversations between the men. There was the crack shooting best mate since childhood, a Scottish union organizer, an opportunistic light fingered rogue, a garrulous cloud watcher, officer types and even a ”poofter” in the corps.

I can’t imagine a more accurate portrayal of the Aussie digger’s ability to adopt a laconic manner and laugh at the toughest of times.

This show is a highlight in an excellent array of world class shows at the 2015 Fringe World.

Five stars plus.

Don’t miss it!

Herald Sun – Nick Richardson – 4 stars

You might know Damian Callinan as a whip-smart comedian, who bobs up in TV sketches and panel game shows. On the evidence of this show, he is considerably more than that.

This is a cleverly written and pitch-perfect delivery of a piece of theatre that could have toppled into a kind of maudlin self-indulgence very easily. But Callinan navigates that potential pitfall with some panache.

This is a show with a narrative: coming across the World War I diary of Digger Paddy Callinan in a Warrnambool op shop, Callinan is transported back to 1914.

We see, through his eyes, his mates, his girlfriend, the Turks, the Western Front, and a fair bit in between; there’s heaps of laughs, a fair bit of pathos and a pretty bloody good dancing routine. But if you’re not like Callinan, and aren’t obsessed by the Great War, there’s still plenty to engage you — the humour, is topical, witty and surreal.

It all comes together in Private Paddy’s story. And best of all, it feels real. For a few moments, you get a sense of what it must have been like, skylarking with your mates on the other side of the world, just before the bullets and bombs arrived.

Scenestr – Kylie Thompson

At most comedy festivals, you get your big names, your phoning-it-ins, and your ambitious up-and-comers bringing their ‘A’ game to every performance, even if it’s just ordering a drink at the bar.

But if the audiences are incredibly lucky, they’ll find themselves sitting and watching a comedian testing their skills, and taking comedy to new and fascinating places. Enter Damian Callinan. At the Brisbane Comedy Festival (11 March).

If you’re a fan of Australian sketch comedy, you’re probably nodding and looking pretty impressed right now. For those not nodding, Callinan is ‘that guy’: the one whose face is familiar to comedy fans even if his name escapes them.

Callinan has a reputation as a fantastic comedian with a gift for creating emotionally real, compelling characters: but even so, ‘The Lost WW1 Diary’ seemed a stretch. A comedy show about a soldier’s experiences in WW1 reeks of career suicide.

One hundred years on, we don’t really joke about the ANZACs. With such a high body count, it’s hard to see humour beyond the obligatory mocking of English strategising. But we’ve also mythologised the ANZACs to the point where honest conversations are often met with criticism and accusations of being un-Australian. We’ve made superheroes of our ancestors, and that makes it hard to acknowledge their innate ordinariness.

Despite the risks, Callinan has created a masterful work equal parts hilarious, honest, and heart-breaking. The characters are so real it’s hard not to cry for them in their darker moments, so vividly alive that it’s easy to forget you’re watching one man on a stage.

This is a one-man show that tells more about the ANZACs than the slew of dryly-spoken documentaries and political speeches we’ve become accustomed to during the centenary fanfare. ‘The Lost WW1 Diary’ is mesmerising in its honesty, stripping away the mythology to look at the realities of life as an ANZAC.

Callinan has a gift for connecting with his characters, and his tear-filled gaze beneath the spotlights is the sort of haunting image show-goers can’t help but be shaken by. Having said that, though, the laughter outweighs the tears.

Gallows humour was a large part of the ANZAC myth, and Callinan has captured that sense of foreboding and reckless laughter near perfectly. This isn’t a show where you’ll laugh for an hour and go about your life. It stays with you, the way the best creative works linger on in the heart and mind.

‘The Lost WW1 Diary’ says a lot, even when it’s very deliberately silent. Callinan doesn’t preach, nor exaggerate heroism. His story is about ordinary men pressed into extraordinary circumstances.

And that’s where the magic lies. There are no tricks, no fog machines: just a gifted storyteller with a few props telling a story we all know but haven’t really understood at an emotional level.

If you have a chance to see ‘The Lost WW1 Diary’, take it. The world needs a good, thought-provoking laugh.