Enright on the Night – Theatre as embodied histories. (Theatre Review)

Enright on the Night

The Genesian Theratre

23 March – 13 April.

You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Grant Fraser

Theatre is necessarily transitory and ephemeral. Something of theatre is preserved in text and type, but reviews, programs and published plays can never properly portray the experience of attendance. In this, theatre (and live music performance) are unique art forms, becoming more and more essential as the world moves into a fast language-based narrative where the ephemeral becomes embalmed and entombed in the endless swirl of a primarily text-based internet lifestyle. Much of this containment is held in the intangible essence of place. Often histories are kept alive via a nostalgic feel for places we experience through leisure, recreation and travel. If locals lack a strong sense of place for a particular event or destination, the place is likely to be less immune to the forces of change, and less interesting to outside visitors. It is the regulars, their memories, nostalgia and awareness of their place in history which gives a collection of events their value. A sense of intimacy and attachment to a unique place comes when those locals promote and share the place with outside visitors. Is this not precisely the crux of a live music crises Sydney is currently experiencing? When we lose our live music venues, we do not simply lose four walls where a band played. We lose the nostalgia required to embody the histories of great Australian bands whose ghosts nurture young talent and thrill the locals ever enthusiastic for the latest offering.

The Genesian Theatre, one of Sydney’s great representatives of theatrical place and time, understand this phenomenon intuitively. They have created a show that specifically honors and reveres one of Australia’s great playwrights, Nick Enright. Cleverly titled Enright on the Night, this charming, super sweet show is a couple of swiftly passing hours devoted to the memory of a playwright who cut his teeth at The Genesian in 1971 and 1972. Young idealistic creatives combine forces with seasoned professionals, many of whom worked with Nick Enright, to bring a show to full life that seems distinctly close to something the playwright might have put together himself. Creatives Juliette Coates, Rosanna Hurley, Lana Domeney and Dion Condack have the wonderful opportunity to present a program devoted to Nick Enright, on a stage that supported Bryan Brown and Baz Luhrmann, not to mention countless others who’ve gone on to illustrious theatre careers. While this is a night devoted to Nick Enright, equally it celebrates the importance of the ghosts in the room, and the thrill of writing and performing over the top of such powerful histories. We watch these delightful young people, talented and hardworking, birth the next wave of remarkable theatre over the top of all the greatness before them.

If it is thrilling to see these young people perform, it is equally warm to watch those who knew Nick Enright or are of his age performing his works. Here we are treated with theatre royalty coming to pay their respects. Powerhouse writing team David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow join forces to offer a show that is part sweet meandering history and part upbeat celebration. Director Roger Gimblett keeps the Genesian front and centre in this production, using the stage and the stalls the bring the history and the contemporary vibrancy to the charming show. Choreographer Debbie Smith organizes the performers into their various numbers with skill and a gentle charisma. Michael Schell supports with a strong lighting and sound design, particulary when a backdrop lights up like stars in the sky. In the troup themselves, theater icon Angela Ayers supports her young ensemble with wit and wisdom, bringing her own long-lasting vitality to the upbeat show. She leads on several numbers and through her grace and experience, one gets a true sense of the young people basking in the glow of her understanding.

But, for the most part, Enright on the Night is really about the young performers, picking up the baton and heralding a new age where everything old is new again. Stunning performances all round, carrying the weight of history and all these professionals on their shoulders, the group never lose their way and complete the program with and infectious joi de vivre. Juliette Coates and Lana Domeney are particularly delightful in their duets. They each have very strong voices and offer the double joy of being well rehearsed. The young women are comfortable with solos, but it is their joint numbers that bring the house down.  Rosanna Hurley has an exceptional voice and an inviting charisma. She performs her numbers with skill and grace, evoking a confidence that extends into the audience. Dion Condack’s talent is always a joy to witness. He’s worked well with the women here, and as usual is exceptional in support, solo and as part of the team. Together with Angela Ayers it’s a lovely set of four that bring Nick Enright’s music, poetry and story to absorbing life on the stage.

Playwrights are not just producers of text; they are places where something has been born. They are entities made up of intangible resources. It is this energy that trips over and into creatives who bring a play into the world, and that spirit infuses the room that houses it. Places are made up of meanings and experiences, emotions and feelings all difficult to quantify and measure. When The Genesian Theatre decides to celebrate Nick Enright, something very special is happening. It is one of the great joys and privileges of witnessing theatre to be touched by something so meaningful. Enright on the Night becomes an essential connection to a time that is not just part of our past, but the launchpad for our thrilling theatrical future.