Saturday, July 22, 2023

Good Works by Nick Enright

 Good Works by Nick Enright. Lexi Sekuless Productions at Mill Theatre, Dairy Road, Canberra, July 21 – August 12, 2023

Book at

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 21

Production Team

Playwright: Nick Enright
Director: Julian Meyrick; Designer: Kathleen Kershaw
Sound Designer: Damien Ashcroft; Lighting Designer: Jennifer Wright
Choreographer: Belynda Buck; Stage Manager: Jess Morris


Tim/Eddie: Oliver Bailey; Shane/Neil: Martin Everett; Rita: Adele Querol
Mary Margaret: Lexi Sekuless;
Alan/Brother Clement/Barry/Mr Donovan: Neil Pigot
Mother John/Mrs Kennedy/Mrs Donovan: Helen McFarlane

I find the layout of Mill Theatre difficult for sight-lines, especially from the longer side back row, even with an empty up-aisle in front,                                                                           

My seat: back row 5 from left
because the entrances/exits are a bit like watching a tennis match from the sideline.

However, Kathleen Kershaw and Belynda Buck successfully choreographed the six performers, playing in short scenes with their characters constantly shifting their ages, in this play which spans 60 years, leaping back and forth between the 1920s, ’50s and ’80s, telling the tangled story of two Australian Irish Catholic families.

Next time I think I’ll try a front row end or side seat next to the entrance – I suppose what would be downstage left, in a conventional setup.  From there I would have easily seen where the switch-blade knife was hidden ‘under the house’ behind that end of the piano, and had a full view of all the action, including on the floor far downstage right

And there, I wouldn’t have been quite so close to the sound and violence of the strop, banged horribly by Neil Pigot as Brother Clement, on the aisle step just in front of me, while Oliver Bailey as Tim cried out “I can’t” hop.

But I must say, Martin Everett’s Shane, stabbing the Brother, and Tim’s kicking to complete the murder, was a truly shocking sight down that empty up-aisle.

I believe the last time Good Works was presented, directed for Darlinghurst Theatre Copmany at Eternity Theatre, Sydney by Canberra Critics’ Award winner Iain Sinclair (BA Hons Australian National University) was in 2015, when Daily Review’s Ben Neutze remarked “Good Works is a beautiful play. Let’s hope it’s not another 20 years before it’s revived again.”  So it is pleasing to see Canberra’s Lexi Sekuless Productions coming in early after 8 years, and working with the highly regarded theatre historian Julian Meyrick as director.

Canberra Weekly [  ]  reports Meyrick as saying Enright possesses the special ability of being a male playwright who could capture convincing women, something that only someone who cares about women could do. The female characters in the play followed the same timeline and arc as Meyrick’s mother.

Nick would have grown up in this time and so when you read the play, you’re aware of a number of factors. One is the kind of Catholicism and the wowserism of Australia at the time; the second is the way the small communities cook up and the way they gossip; and then the third is this kind of yearning for something different, the beginnings of a kind of a desire to be freer.

And as I remember Nick Enright, his interest – and concerns – about young people were clear from his play and film Black Rock about the murder of teenage girl Leigh Leigh, as well as his work in setting up the original Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) with director David Berthold.  His later 1999 work Spurboard was presented at Wharf 2 with “16 young actors and a professional support team working in association with Pulse 10, which is STC's youth and education wing
[ ] - Canberra Times), while his influence has gone on to the theatre industry more widely, for example at the 2018 Industry Forum held at the ATYP Young People and The Arts: The child as cultural citizen
[ ]

It’s awful to remember that Enright contracted melanoma cancer about 1988, around the same time as I did, but surgery was kind to me; while after 15 years in remission Nick died at 52 in 2003.  So for me this production of Good Works is in memory of Nick Enright OAM.  The Sydney Morning Herald published a tribute on 25 March 2023:

Writer and teacher, died 20 years ago on March the 30th, 2003. He was a man of singular grace, intelligence and charm.

As long as memory, itself a dying thing, survives, we hold dear our friendship with him and regret his early leaving.

~JH & RB

Good Works, with Meyrick’s directing and an excellent cast, works very well in this small theatre space.  From an actor’s point of view the switching of costumes is nothing compared with reappearing every few minutes at a different stage, from maybe 5-year-old to grandparent, of the same character, let alone as a different character as the men and Helen McFarlane are required to do.   Would it have been better to use more actors?  Eight men and five women?

It is true that I found myself sometimes having to stop to think about who were the characters on stage at that moment, but the play often moved on so quickly, leaving me to realise that I did not need to remember every detail about everyone because what the play as a whole was really about was impressionistic.

With its ironic title, the play was not  specifically about this or that character, nor even about this or that particular family, but about the nature of the culture of the society to which these families belonged.  Does this society work?  Does it work well?  Is it true to our real society?  Or some part of it?

This production works better with fewer actors in a kind of maelstrom of flurries with occasional moments of seemingly unlikely stillness, especially in this small space.  Interestingly, on that point, in a more conventional small in-the-round theatre, such as my favourite Ensemble Theatre in Sydney, warmth, connection and intimacy give the drama strength.  In the rectangular flat space of the Mill Theatre, empathy and identifying with the characters is not the point.  It’s almost Brechtian in keeping our minds working as we put together, as far as we can, the unexpected bits and pieces of these families’ lives.

The result, in my view, is a play which encapsulates the thinking of the author about at least this part of Australian life – apparently informed by Enright’s experience growing up in the country industrial coal mining town, Maitland, where St Joseph’s was established in 1835 and Case 43 of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse says it all:

Good Works indeed!


The cast in rehearsal for Good Works by Nick Enright
Lexi Sekuless Productions, 2023