Enright On the Night

By David Mitchell and Melvin Morrow.  Genesian Theatre Company,  Kent Street,  Sydney.  March 23 – April 13, 2019.

Photo : Grant Fraser

Reviewed : March 23, 2019

It’s fifteen years since Australian theatre lost one of its most popular and prolific theatrical creatives. Nick Enright was a real all-rounder – playwright, actor, director, screen writer, lyricist, translator, adaptor, dramaturg, teacher, mentor. Few could aspire to such a comprehensive CV; few could achieve so much and still stay a regular nice guy; few could reject the call of Broadway and Hollywood and come home to the country and people he loved and wrote about so prolifically.

This tribute, written by his composer collaborators, David Mitchell and Melvin Morrow, tells Enright’s story through his songs and poetry. In the empathetic hands of director Roger Gimblett, choreographer Debbie Smith, with musical director Dion Condack, and the creative lighting of Michael Schell, four multi-talented women take the audience from his early days in East Maitland to Sydney, London, New York and Los Angeles.

Angela Ayers, Juliette Coates, Rosanna Hurley and Lana Domeney welcome the audience to a ‘night with Nick’, then chronicle the history of his remarkable achievements interspersed with song and dance routines that are deftly choreographed and skilfully performed. Accompanied by Condack, they take the audience on an Enright-inspired ‘road trip’ using a musical ‘play list’ of his best-known songs – the funny, the sad, the cheeky, the moving.

Photo : Grant Fraser

There is a great sense of homage in the narrative and the choice of songs … and a very real respect the direction and way they are delivered – even though some of the performers were but toddlers when ‘Nick’ died in 2005. Whether recounting highlights of his life, singing his songs, reciting his funny poems or recalling the poignant ‘Happy Valley’ monologue from On the Wallaby, the cast infuse into their performance a great sense of respect for this doyen of Australian theatre arts.

They remind us of the comedy of The Venetian Twins, the whimsy of Summer Rain, the international success of The Boy from Oz and Lorenzo’s Oil. They remember the moving television adaptation of Dymphna Cusack’s Come in Spinner and the clever, contemporary scripting of A Man with Four Children. And they do so in the Australian voices in which Enright wrote.

From the battlers of the depression (On the Wallaby) to a community dealing with the rape and murder of a teenager (The Property of the Clan/Blackrock) to his adaptation with Justin Monjo of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, Nick Enright’s characters were real Australians. He knew how they spoke, how they thought, what was important to them. He knew what he wanted to say about them – and he said it through characters we recognised and with whom we identified.

Just as this production does!

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine.