Review By Lisa Lanzi
There are comedians and comedy offerings GALORE at any Adelaide Fringe. Then there is Damian Callinan with his deeply personal, self-penned, erudite Double Feature. Humour, irony, romance, grief, love and loss, all fit together in a powerful and entertaining story peppered with profound insights into life and family. A tableaux of love indeed, and I’m thankful I was able to experience this piece of theatre.
Callinan is a multifaceted and much awarded comedian, actor & writer, and more recently creator and star of the Netflix film, The Merger. In a superb hour of entertainment the audience was definitely along for the ride, delighting in the expert comic timing and intuitive asides. It is such a pleasure to witness a performer who commands the stage and is immersed in their ‘world’, not afraid to honestly impart emotion. It is worth a gander at Callinan’s bio and website as well - a man of prodigious talent and is active on many entertainment fronts.
The three-time Barry Award nominee discovered his mother’s wartime diary, written while still a single woman, cataloguing her work, charity activities, romances, and the many movies and dances attended. It was secreted in a box that also contained his father’s vast collection (twenty three volumes) of more utilitarian diaries: (I paraphrase here) ‘who borrowed the mower’, ‘flow much improved after urethra procedure at clinic’, and ‘Mass only 15 minutes today as Father X had a chiropodist appointment’. With these anecdotes forming a basis for the back and forth narrative of Double Feature, Callinan welcomes us into the family with warmth, affection, and humour. With a some video and a photographic ‘slide-show’, superb story-telling, and the device of framing the whole as a ‘feature film pitch’ Callinan conveys his parents’ great love affair and the more tragic direction the family’s lives eventually took.
Paired with Callinan’s wry recitation from dad Adrian’s diary, a softly spoken female voice-over uttered snippets taken from mum Kathleen’s entries. Now and again, the maternal voice also ‘addresses’ our performer, sometimes advising him that it might be best not to include that bit in one of his shows - immediately after said entry has indeed been revealed publicly. Various members of the younger Callinan generation make an appearance on screen as technical staff (make-up, art department etc) on the imagined and vastly under-funded film production: “it’s not child labour if they’re family”. Although there are many, many layers to this tale, and all enjoyable, Callinan keeps the threads active and compelling so that we eagerly anticipate the next development.
I particularly enjoyed the droll digs at the Catholic Church (and non-threatening opportunity for some audience participation) along with some fascinating revelations about facets of the ‘culture’ including the Children of Mary, a group I had only vaguely been aware of as a Catholic school girl. Contrasting with the religious hilarity, Callinan projected a horse-racing tote board listing the names of Kathleen’s suitors as revealed in her diary. Their names were substituted with horsey monikers such as Fly Boy, Fancy Jack and Beaut Jack, The Polish Count and Brown Nut Ron (a whole other story there!), Pressure Ron and Whatisname. The odds were also calculated as diary entries divulged various welcome or unwelcome actions by the suitors. After quite some shenanigans, Fly Boy is revealed as the suitor who eventually married Kathleen and fathered Damian and his siblings.
Written and performed with endearing connection, wit, and empathy, Double Feature is a must-see this year!