Tuesday 15 January 2019

Newk! - Theatre Review

What: Newk! (The John Newcombe Story)
When: 14 - 19 January 2019
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written and directed by: Kieran Carroll
Performed by: Damian Callinan

Damian Callinan
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 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.

3.5 Stars

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