The late Nick Enright was one of Australia’s most celebrated playwrights. Last year, Darlinghurst Theatre Company announced it would honour Enright by staging a series of his works at Eternity Playhouse.

It’s currently presenting the second play in that series and it’s Good Works, written in 1994 and widely considered to be among Enright’s greatest achievements. It’s a story that reinforces how profoundly the sins of a generation can be visited upon those that follow.

Good Works is set between 1928 and 1981, focusing on the lives of three generations of two families. At the centre of the story are Tim (Stephen Multari) and Shane (Anthony Gooley). When we’re first introduced to the characters, it’s during their chance meeting at a bar in 1981. At first, the pair interact as though they’ve only just become acquainted. But it’s not long before Tim recognises Shane as his childhood friend.

And then there’s much more to the tale than that. Enright’s clever set-up of the narrative instantly prompts a raft of questions. What were the circumstances that led to the one-time close friends falling completely out of contact? Why won’t Shane admit to Tim that he’s someone he once knew? And what is it about Shane’s early life he’s so determined not to revisit?

The story takes us back in time and introduces us to the elders who played a pivotal role in both boys’ lives, most significantly their mothers. As time goes on, we’re apprised of those characters’ own struggles, and a vivid picture is ultimately painted of the context in which their chance meeting later in life must be viewed. It’s a compelling tale from start to finish, never losing your attention for a second.

Anthony Gooley, Stephen Multari and Lucy Goleby (c) Helen White

Anthony Gooley, Stephen Multari and Lucy Goleby in ‘Good Works’ (Photo courtesy of Helen White)

The most impressive aspect of Darlinghurst Theatre’s Good Works, however, is the cast of strong, committed and versatile performers, who have the tremendous and unenviable task of keeping pace with the constant and rapid changes in time and setting, yet consistently manage to do so.

Taylor Ferguson is hugely sympathetic and enormously frustrating as Shane’s rebellious mother, Rita. Her performance represents a portrayal of Rita that is everything it should be, complex and contradictory.

Multari delivers an energetic and amazingly agile performance, and the result is an utterly convincing portrayal of Tim through the ages. Through impeccable delivery of the dialogue and wisely chosen gestures, Multari is able to at one moment successfully embody all of the characteristics of the adult Tim in 1981 before swiftly transforming into the character’s childhood self.

Gooley is similarly successful wearing the hats of Shane and Neil. At the outset, he matches a defensive, edgy and slightly brusque portrayal of Shane with Enright’s dialogue to effectively allude to the character’s darker days. Moments later, he’s suitably innocent and wide-eyed as Shane in his youth

Lucy Goleby is perfectly poised as Mary Margaret, Tim’s mother, but breaks from the Stepford wife stereotype as required to share feelings that are deep and raw, and show a fragility. And both Jamie Oxenbould and Toni Scanlan provide terrific supporting performances.

Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby (c) Helen White

Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby in ‘Good Works’ (Photo courtesy of Helen White)

As hinted earlier, the piece’s structure is challenging, and at times, it felt as though more needed to occur in order to properly punctuate a change in time and setting. Costuming choices for the male characters somewhat contributed to the issue. While at times, a sudden setting change can be a bold choice and serves its purpose, at other moments, it’s a little too jarring.

The metaphor of the snow globe, and the way it’s woven into the piece is also troublesome. It appears to suggest the way in which our memories capture moments in time like an image captured within a snow globe. But was there specific meaning to be derived from the way in which the performers interacted with the life-size globe set throughout the piece? Sometimes, their movement around the tops of several pillars on the stage tended to detract from the action.

Additionally, while it’s not this reviewer’s intention to give anything away, the message to be discerned from the piece’s final moments wasn’t conveyed entirely clearly in this staging.

On the whole though, Enright triumphs in delivering characters that draw us into their world and have us sympathising with each of their individual plights. Dialogue is never forced rather exchanges unfold naturally and seamlessly. Good Works is an enjoyable (albeit, slightly bumpy) ride.