By Morgan Quinn
For its size, Canberra is a dynamic and exciting place. Yet it can be criticised for a perceived lack of opportunity for the relatively massive pool of creative talent nestled within our valleys. Venues close, audiences stay home and watch Netflix – it can be disheartening for an artist.
So I’m chuffed to the gills to learn that Canberra has a (relatively) recently opened performance space. The Mill Theatre, around the corner from Capital Brewery on Dairy Road, opened mid 2022 and is playing host to an Australian Classic – Nick Enright’s Good Works, presented by Lexi Sekuless Productions.
Several cast members for the upcoming run had a chat to BMA about the play, the venue, and their craft. Oliver Bailey, Martin Everett, and Neil Pigot indulged me as I navigated and made sense of an art-form I’m only somewhat familiar with.
“At its core, this is an Australian play. We as Australians see things through a particular lens that resonates with our audiences. The Aussie social milieu is intangible but relatable to us.
“So, despite this play being written in 1995, there’s no necessity to update the text because it’s as relevant today as it ever was.
“That doesn’t mean someone without that background wouldn’t enjoy or learn things from the play. Australian audience members will relate strongly to the ideas, the language, and even the mannerisms and nuances of the characters.”
The play explores themes of morality within the context of two families and their relationships with each other. Catholicism, and the way Australians of certain generations adhere to the religion’s dogma, is used within the plot to drive the themes of morality and choice.
“The story takes place across several generations and is told in a non-linear way –it jumps between these different periods – and although Catholicism is important in the story, you could replace it with other religions, beliefs, or social constructs.
“Catholicism itself is not a fundamental aspect of the story. Good Works, and I’d say a lot of great theatre, is about humans, our interactions, our relationships. Nick Enright is a great writer of both stage and screen.
“Anyone who knows his work knows that, if anything, his work becomes more relevant as
time goes on.”
The Mill Theatre is a new, intimate venue for Canberra. Seating 67, and converted from a cool room, it is the first private enterprise theatre in the ACT. The technical fit out for a new space is always intriguing; does this play incorporate audio or video to tell this story?
“This is a stage play in the classic sense – actors performing characters. There are basic costumes and sets, but we don’t rely on bells and whistles to entertain the audience.
“It seems to be the trend in the mainstream, now, that live theatre includes video projections, complicated sound cues, and audience participation. Everyone involved in this production is focused on sharing what a great stage play can be; a story, well told, by people who are dedicated to their craft.”
With this stripped back ethos stated, my mind goes in another direction; one it goes in anytime I talk to a talented, creative person. Why are you dedicated to the craft?
“I’m too old to do anything else.”
“We’re story tellers, this is what we do.” “Why not?”
All great answers to this typically broad question. As our time draws to a close I’m provided one last nugget of wisdom.
“It’s fascinating to me that we seem to be puzzled by the choice of reviving an Australian play, yet we don’t even blink when another Shakespeare or Ibsen is rolled out yet again.
“We do it because it’s a challenge. As I look at our society, I think telling our stories and reflecting on ourselves seems more important than ever.
“Without a sense of collective self, how can we hope to move forward?”
Good Works will be performed at Mill Theatre from 12 July to 12 August. Tickets are $25 – $50 + bf and are available online via Humanitix.