Good Works

7 Nov

As a kid, I’d occasionally be dragged to Great Aunt Dot’s for slide night.

I’d fidget, as slide after slide of people I didn’t recognise slid by. Kat, who was second cousin to Joan. Or was it Shirley? Henry, who died young in a boating accident.

Now and then, when a random image did finally hold my childish attention, it would quickly slide away, replaced by another, and then another.

And Aunt Dot, God rest her soul, had no sense of chronology. Poor young Henry would be lost, and then he’d return, smiling confidently at the camera, seemingly magically unaware of what lay ahead. At the time I giggled; Aunt Dot was dotty. But now, older if not wiser, I guess at her purpose.

Nick Enright’s Good Works felt like one of Dot’s slide nights. Enright’s slides are far better composed, but they do just keep coming.

Director Iain Sinclair builds this challenge into a beautifully fluid production and the performances are wonderful. ( I could watch Toni Scanlan do her stuff eight nights a week.)

Set in old time Anglo Australia, Good Works is a meditation on class, family, and authentic moral behaviour. (‘Good works’ being the very Catholic assertion that our salvation is tied to our actions, not – as those horrid Protestants might have it – only to our faith. Of course, there’s a troubled heart to this doctrine. Good works, when so bound up with our own salvation, our own vision of morality, can struggle to seem a genuine attempt to reach out and help others. The tension between one-time childhood friends Rita and Mary Margaret provocatively suggests this issue, and it’s performed movingly by Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby.)

Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby. Photo (c) Helen White.

Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby. Photo (c) Helen White.

This play typifies a strand of Australian theatre for which I am not the audience. It’s nostalgic. It’s non-cerebral. ( Nostalgic? Doubly so. Enright wrote it 20 years ago, about an Australia 30 odd years before that. And it’s non-cerebral because in a world defined by sex , repression and physical brutality, some of the characters may be canny, but none is allowed an intellectual life.)

These two elements combine to create a sentimentality that speaks to me as much as one of those slide nights. A night of people I didn’t recognise, sliding by in the darkness. But like Henry, whose smiling face would always make Aunt Dot’s eyes shine, they’re clearly recognisable to others.

Veronica Kaye

Good Works by Nick Enright

Eternity Playhouse til 29 Nov

Tix and info here

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