Good Works – Ian Sinclair engages a deep connection with Nick Enright. (Theatre Review)

goodworks, darlinghurst theatre, photo by helen white

Good Works

The Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Eternity Theatre

31 October – 29 November – You can grab your tickets here

Images Helen White

“There’s no such thing as character, only behaviour”

Existentialism and religion have always been the kinds of enemies that occasionally like to sleep with each other. While 60’s existentialism, as exemplified by J.P. Sartre’s “existence precedes essence” was particularly against the religious contention that human nature needs a radical entity to transform it or redeem it from self destruction, it can equally be argued that existentialism comes alive in a post-Christian examination such as Kierkegaard or even Dostoyevsky.  Surely this is part of the key to its popularity, for good works (or The Project) is only essential if you subscribe to its redeeming quality. It is this idea that forms both the doughy subterranean contours and the rock-hard surface level examination of folk in Nick Enright’s Good Works, a beautiful, circular examination of what it is to be human in a world of disintegrating christianity and insubstantial quivering truths.

goodworks, darlinghurst theatre, photo by helen white

One of the great delights of this production (and there are many to be had) is the personal connection Ian Sinclair (director) has to the project. It’s a wonderous thing to witness a play imbibed with directorial spirit, but from the notes in the program, through the performances and into the staging, we feel the directors presence as it tilts and washes Enright’s beautiful words with a touch of his grateful recognition. As Sinclair says in his notes, this play signposts the point of difference between who we think we are and what we actually do. And yet, included in that statement, is the layering of Enright’s very post-Christian criticism of his characters that insists on a level of self-examination not only of each character’s works, good or otherwise, but asks the audience to consider this in light of the intentions of Christianity. Because christians think they are doing one thing, and Enright is suggesting they are doing something quite the opposite, Enright becomes a critic of Christianity, but only within the context of its happy existence. (A bit like atheism if you like – it can’t exist without religion). All this constant engagement with its own reflection makes Good Works a thrilling engagement with stylistics, familiarity and surprise of semantics, expanding the scope to move beyond an existential analysis to see Christianity more as a withdrawal from freedom in a more modern context – post modern if you like. Rather than freedom of the individual, Enright seems to be speaking more to a world where religion is an escape from proliferating and competing complexities.

goodworks, darlinghurst theatre, photo by helen white

This is partly brough to the fore with the interweaving structure of Good Works, its dancing back and forth in time that is more emblematic than stylised narrative. Ian Sinclair is obviously very comfortable with the complex adventure Enright suggests life is, imbuing all the circular difficulties of the play with an emotional adhesive that allows all the performances to soar and the audience to follow its compounded trajectory. We feel for Enright’s characters and while we may be inclined to judge, we are equally aware of a structural universal that hovers behind this simplest version of the play. It makes for an engaging theatrical experience that is also very intellectually intense, while equally elevating the primary drive from “Christianity is bad – don’t do it.”

goodworks, darlinghurst theatre, photo by helen white

All of this takes place on a beautiful set designed by Hugh O’Connor that appears equally as pillars of elegant beauty and surface level plant life harbouring the swirling drive of a relentless and dangerous nature in its roots. It’s a precarious and beautiful set, delicate and yet sturdy. It catches the eye, but also harbours the cast who make a playful and light use of it as they go about their often weighty roles. And this really is a play that belongs to its cast, with all shining in their respective roles. Taylor Ferguson is a stand out as the emotionally flamboyant Rita joyfully embracing her good bad girl mother type and forging her character forward into fearless terrain. She is reflected in the restrained but equally dynamic portrait of Mary Margaret by Lucy Goleby giving us two wonderfully unrestrained performances by the young women living out a very real female experience of friendship. Their supported by Stephen Multari and Anthony Gooley as Tim and Shayne, living under the burden of consequence. The men move back and forth through time with skill and ease, even playing children with confidence and intelligence such that the audience remain fully engaged. With the four are Toni Scanlan and Jamie Oxenbould playing satellite roles with alacrity and confidence, each showcasing their talent for diversity. Sian James-Holland and Nate Edmonson round out a beautiful night of theatre with subtle lighting and sound that use the empyrean space of the Darlinghurst Theatre stage to full advantage.

All this comes together under the self-assured direction of Ian Sinclair who has so very obviously loved every moment of working with this beautiful text. It is his potent navigation and his elegant treatment that bring Enright’s work to life in, one imagines, precisely the way it was intended.

goodworks, darlinghurst theatre, photo by helen white