Good Works, by Nick Enright | Directed by Iain Sinclair

Darlinghurst Theatre (www.darlinghursttheatre.com) | Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst, Sydney | Until 29 November

I vaguely remember meeting the late Nick Enright in the early 1970s, when we were both politically active students at Sydney University, though I didn’t share his intense love for the theatre nor his keen involvement with SUDS (Sydney University Drama Society).

It probably wasn’t until his untimely death of cancer in 2003 that I became fully aware of what a giant of theatre and film he had been. As well as penning outstanding plays of his own, Enright adapted Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet for the stage, and wrote the screenplay for Lorenzo’s Oil. His play Blackrock was made into a highly successful Australian film.

Fittingly, the bar at Darlinghurst Theatre’s wonderful new Eternity Playhouse venue bears his name.

And one of his finest his finest plays, Good Works, from 1994, is showing there now.

This tale of multiple generations of two Catholic families — the well-to-do Donovans and the struggling Kennedys — growing up in Australia, much of the time in Maitland, where Enright grew up, from the 1920s to the 1980s is challenging for both actors and audience, demanding as it does constant concentration to keep tabs on a plot that flits through time and place.

But under the deft direction of Iain Sinclair, the six-person cast holds the line magnificently, never wavering in the telling of this complex, intricate story.

Stephen Multari and Anthony Gooley are completely convincing as Tim Donovan and Shane Kennedy respectively, playing them seemingly effortlessly in various life stages, starting with a chance encounter in a gay bar.

The two young women — Taylor Ferguson as Rita and Lucy Goleby as Mary Margaret — are, if anything even more effective, and turn in extremely powerful performances.

Toni Scanlon and Jamie Oxenbould handle well their multiple roles and the latter is especially compelling as the sadistic, quite evil Brother Clement.

Oxenbould is definitely emerging as one of our great character actors, and I was definitely reminded here of his performance as the shy but quite sadistic Gareth in Ensemble Theatre’s Neighbourhood Watch a few years ago — though absolutely no comic relief this time around.

Special mention must also go to Nate Edmondson (composer and sound designer) and Hugh O’Connor (production designer) for making this such a memorable production.

The stage full of multi-level plinths requires considerable athleticism from the cast, who handle the gymnastics with aplomb, and provides director Sinclair with a very useful tool for bringing Enright’s provocative family saga to a fresh audience.

Thumbs up.

Above: Anthony Gooley, Stephen Multari, Taylor Ferguson.

Below: Toni Scanlon.

All images: Helen White.

Taylor Ferguson, Lucy Goleby.