Snow Globe Trotting: Review of Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Good Works
Good Works (1994) by Nick Enright is an exploration of intergeneration pain, and works to unveil how the mistakes and decisions made by one generation will be perpetuated into the next.
Set across some sixty years, we begin in a Sydney gay bar with Tim who is instantly drawn to a rough patron who introduces himself as John. Tim though, is convinced that John is his childhood friend Shane. The two became separated after a violent incident involving a brother from their Catholic school. What follows is a series of short scenes that bounce around chronologically, beginning with their mothers as children, focusing on their childhood, early romances and the difficulties they faced as parents. Central to the play is an exploration of small town morality informed by religion. Characters either attempt to abide by these values or rebel, and although they’re always trying to do what they believe is best, it doesn’t always lead to happy outcomes.
The production has been blessed with a uniformly strong cast that is almost without fault – especially necessary with this intricately wrought, at times confusing, play. Both Anthony Gooley and Stephen Multari excelled in their respective roles as boyhood friends, Shane and Tim. Shifts from puberty to adulthood are often difficult to portray, but each player tackled theirs with aplomb. Multari was particularly effective at embodying Tim’s glowing, boyish innocence, whereas Gooley brought great menace to the broken adult Shane. Alongside them, Taylor Ferguson (of Belvoir’s Miss Julie fame) played the brazen Australian beauty Rita (mother to Shane). Ferguson is quietly captivating; intelligently, she hardens Rita with age, mapping all of life’s disappointments with every interaction. As Rita’s childhood friend Mary Margaret (mother to Tim), Lucy Goleby has arguably less to do. Nevertheless, she provides a steady contrast and tragically she captures what ‘a good second choice’ looks like. Toni Scanlan effectively delivers the slightly caricatured dank pretention of Mrs Donovan (Mary Margaret’s Mother) whilst enjoying the cute gimmick of the Irish Catholic nun, Mother John. Finally, Jamie Oxenbould goes from strength to strength playing several characters, including an elderly gay gentleman (Alan), the sadistic Brother Clement, the slimy pub owner Barry and the conservative Mr Donovan.
Our set has been made to resemble the interior of a snow globe with several raised pillars, which creates a visual delight. The added vertical performance space gave time an almost physical dimension, as the text’s numerous and overlapping time-slips are designed to give us a sense of the parallel and interconnected nature of the story’s different threads. These time-slips, when combined with the added doubling of characters, created the looming threat of confusion setting in; but to his credit, director Iain Sinclair has deftly navigated this, and for the most part the audience is able to keep up. Having said that, this play demands effort from its audience; and once we work through the jagged chronology, untangle the doubled characters and move past the dazzling set, we may decide that all of this is covering up a rather familiar story that is largely without the payoff that Bovell’s similarly structured When the Rain Stops Falling delivers. Nevertheless, it is plainly evident that a great deal of intelligent design has gone into this production, and for that alone the cast and crew should be congratulated.
Good Works is playing with the Darlinghurst Theatre Company at the Eternity Theatre until the 29th of November. For more information see: