Nick Enright was a leading Australian writer who also inspired and mentored a generation of theatre artists. We recently put out a call for Nick Enright stories. Thanks so much to all who wrote in. We’ll be passing these onto the Enright Family and posting these on our website. Our hope is that the stories inspire a timely biography. Here are a few.
Robyn Nevin | May 2016
STC produced A Man With Five Children when I was AD at the company. I went through the process of staging a new play. I was pretty close to Nick. On the afternoon of maybe the final dress, which I sat in on, I looked around the auditorium (of Wharf 1 theatre) to find Nick. He clearly wasn't present. This was surprising, very surprising. He had attended every rehearsal.
I later learned from him that he had seen his doctor on that afternoon and been given the prognosis we all later learned would cause his death. He waited until the production opened before he told us the sad facts.
His first concern, even on hearing of his terrible illness, was to honour the production, to spare us the sadness of his story so that we could remain focussed on the stage story. He was respected and loved. We still miss him.
© Alana Valentine | May 2016
Watching Over Darlinghurst: I had just been to Timothy Conigrave’s funeral at St Canice’s Catholic Church in Darlinghurst. Victoria Longley had spoken with love thumping from every word, Jennifer Vuletic had sung like a seraph and Nick Enright had invited everyone back to his house in Newtown for the wake. It was 1994 and my own mother had died earlier that year, three days before her fiftieth birthday, from breast cancer. I had recently resigned from a full-time, on-staff job at ABC Radio to write stage plays. People thought I was mad. Some would walk across hot coals to become an ABC employee and I was leaving after three years in radio drama. No redundancy, no nothing. At my farewell I remember a fellow from JJJ saying to me ‘What will you do on Monday?’ And I said, ‘I’ll get up and write.’ He laughed like a drain.
But I did. I was a fledgling playwright living on hope and Nick Enright was the real deal, living the life. When I had first been employed at the ABC, in 1989, Nick had written a play produced by Jane Ulman called Watching Over Israel. I would be happy to defend the opinion that it is one his most moving, most astonishing dramatic works. It’s a play about a banking executive who is walking to choir practice in Darlinghurst when she stops to help a young sex worker. Like all works of great beauty it is built on a powerfully simple premise. ‘What would happen if we stopped to help someone who asked us instead of walking past?’
There is a scene in the play in which the choirmaster invites a young sex worker to his home. He is uncomfortable, nervous and he leaves the young man in his lounge room while he goes to the kitchen to get them both a drink. The listening audience then hears the sound of a high-pitched scratching and wonders what it is. When the choirmaster walks back into the room we suddenly understand that it is the sound of the young man removing vinyl records from their covers and scraping a knife across their surface. Without ever saying the word ‘knife’ it looms larger in our imaginations than it could ever physically appear on screen or stage. For years I used it as one of the finest examples of how to show not tell in radio. The play won the 1990 Australian Writer’s Guild award for best radio drama.
When I got to Nick’s house for the wake there were people in every room drinking, laughing, crying and telling their memories of Tim. In Nick’s study, there was a pin board covered in index cards and I remember standing, peering at it. It outlined the structure of one of his plays, Good Works I think. So that was how a real dramatist worked, I thought. I remember being surprised that he hadn’t tried to cover it up, as if the skeleton of the work was pinned up there to be observed, all exposed, with no flesh or muscle to disguise it and I could look straight into the mind of the writer. Nick came in while I was shamelessly staring. I thanked him for having me in his house, I commented fondly on Timothy’s vituperative wit and then I left. With my next waitressing pay I went and bought a pin board and index cards.
Anna Volska | May 2016
Nick was a man who loved children. He longed to have a family and I've never seen him so chuffed as when a lesbian couple asked him to father their child.
He adored his nieces. He loved singing to our children Hilary and Lucy, and took them to the Royal Easter Show when it was in Moore Park.
Hilary's writing of musicals comes directly from Nick whose rhyming wit thrilled her as a ten year old.
His generosity was legendary not just as a host or letter writer or giver of homemade stewed plums but a giver of his precious time. We all loved him.
Nicholas Hammond | May 2016
When I first made the scary step of becoming a screenwriter, Nick offered wisdom and encouragement that was invaluable. His thoughtfulness and generosity were without limit, sending me compilation tapes of music that was relevant, articles from newspapers and magazines, and most importantly his own optimism about my ability to do it. His many notes, always written in longhand with a fountain pen, whether for birthdays, opening nights, or any other significant event were treasures. On my last visit to him in hospital a few days before his death, he had no interest in talking about himself, he only wanted to hear what I was doing, how my family was, and what was going on in the world.
Posted 23 May 2016