For the VFL/AFL club that has finished runner up more than any other, the continued pain of losing Grand Finals and wasted seasons (when the result was far worse) was piling up. From working class roots, Tony Shaw tried his hand as basketball, but lack of height saw him turn his energies to Aussie Rules. At least, that is how the play Shawry tells it. It also references the fact that Tony married young and his wife helped to keep him on the straight and narrow.
The narrative unfolds through Shaw himself (at least through the actor that plays him, namely Mike Newman) and through those with whom he interacted. Specifically, I refer to the doctors that treated him through his football and post football injuries and medical episodes and Sadie, the cleaning lady at Collingwood Football Club and sometime 3CR broadcaster (as played by Anthea Davis). Tony’s older brother Ray was Collingwood captain, but Tony was initially knocked back by the club. As we know though, his persistence paid off … and how.
Tony was an accumulator – he knew how he could get his hands on the “pill” and never shirked a hard ball get. Mind you, his Premiership winning coach Leigh Matthews would take issue with that. That is just one of several episodes in Shaw’s life played out in Shawry. I have already referenced his frequent hospital visits. The play starts off when Tony knocked himself out by running into a tree during a marathon. We see the importance of jumper number 22 and the revolving door of coaches who never tasted ultimate success at the Pies.
Although full of laughs, courtesy of the good-natured banter that writer Neil Cole has brought to bear, Shawry has a couple of much more sober interludes. There is the tragedy of Tony’s brother Kelvin’s suicide and the death of former Premiership teammate Darren “Pants” Millane. As the Tony Shaw story takes shape in a series of vignettes, the scene of his ultimate triumph unfolds through Sadie and her husband Wacker. First up, they prepare for that One Day in September 1990 and then ride the bumps (metaphorically) of the game itself. Of course, the result was not only the first Collingwood flag for 32 years, but the Norm Smith Medal for Best on Ground for the Premiership captain.
With light and shade, the vast majority of Shawry is a hoot, aimed squarely at die-hard football fans in general and Collingwood supporters in particular (when the club’s theme song is played, many open their lungs). More than that though, it is also a very human story because like the man himself, the play presents Tony as a decent, ordinary bloke without airs or graces who had a gift. Of course, it also manages to poke some well-meaning fun at Shaw. Neil Cole’s turn of phrase remains readily accessible throughout.
Mike Newman and Anthea Davis are certainly up for the challenge of playing multiple characters. They have a sense of fun and playfulness, which is both endearing and engaging. Director Sean Paisley Collins ensures the piece moves along at a decent pace. Let me finish by saying that as a life-long, one-eyed, passionate Essendon devotee and member, the hoary old chestnut I still can’t stand goes: Who kicked five goals in the 1990 Grand Final? Seventy minutes without interval, Shawy is playing at Chapel Off Chapel until 24th July, 2022.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- The Longest Minute (QT) – theatre review
- Nine the Musical (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review
- Abigail’s Party (MTC) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.