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The Merger (MICF) – theatre review

Last year I saw the quintessentially Australian comedy film The Merger. Now I’ve be able to see one man – Damian Callinan – on stage doing it all, in the show that inspired the film. He fills multiple roles – primarily coach Troy Carrington, who is trying to lift his beloved Australian Rules team from the depths of despair.

They’re the Bodgy Creek Roosters. The team is a rag-tag bunch of no-hopers who seem to prefer booze to laying it all on the line on the footy field. As a result, they’re last in the competition this season. But things are about to get a whole lot worse. The League steps in and it looks like Bodgy Creek are going to have to merge with their arch rivals, the Hudson’s Flat Cougars. But Carrington isn’t about to take that lying down. To save the club, he embarks on a program to recruit refugees and unwittingly takes the community on a journey of change.

Speaking at pace, Callinan commanded my attention and funny bone from the get-go. Interaction is paramount, and he had the audience onside throughout. I wanted him, and his good-for-nothing team, to succeed … to be premiers again. In between sequences, we got to hear some of the priceless gems turned out by the local community radio station, including hilarious and politically incorrect advertising. That was one of the things I really enjoyed about this show – it threw out political correctness in the name of laughs.

Apart from turning a number of audience members into rather lackluster footy players, Callinan also dons hand puppets – to engage each other in spirited conversation – on occasion. He provokes, implores and stirs the pot over and over. It’s just him, a fake tree containing boards showcasing the years the Roosters won premierships … and a notorious tree stump.

If you want non-stop entertainment, this is it. Although it is mostly amusing, Callinan even manages to channel pathos more than once. Callinan could talk the leg off a table, but he’s the consummate showman, never missing a beat. Don’t miss your chance to see him in action.

The Merger is playing at Beckett Theatre at The Malthouse until 21 April 2019 as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Alex First

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