Aussie stars honour iconic playwright at NIDA event

Published 08 December 2008

annepender.jpgSome of the nation’s leading stage and theatre stars celebrated the life and work of the iconic Australian playwright Nick Enright at a recent event in Sydney.

Nick Enright was one of Australia’s most significant and successful playwrights. Best known for writing The Boy from Oz, Enright influenced Australian theatre for more than 30 years. He wrote more than 50 scripts for the stage, film, television and radio, and was nominated for an Academy Award.

When he died of cancer in 2003 at the age of 52, Australia’s theatre world lost one of its most brilliant members. A newly-published book, Nick Enright: An Actor’s Playwright (Rodopi, Amsterdam and New York, 2008), co-edited by Dr Anne Pender from the University of New England, is the first in-depth study of Enright’s theatre career.

Tony Sheldon, star of the current musical extravaganza Priscilla and a close friend of Enright, launched the book in the foyer of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney on Friday 28 November. “Among the star-studded crowd attending the launch was Drew Forsythe, one of the nation’s finest comic actors,” Dr Pender said. “Much to everyone’s delight he performed ‘Jindyworobak’, a song co-written by Nick.” Sandy Gore, Jennifer Hagan, Andrew Broadbent and other prominent Aussie stars also attended.

Dr Pender (pictured here), a Senior Lecturer from UNE’s School of Arts, co-edited the book with Dr Susan Lever from the Australian Defence Force Academy / University of New South Wales. Nick Enright: An Actor’s Playwright is a set of essays and recollections about Enright’s work. Theatre directors, scholars and teachers of acting have contributed to this volume, each analysing and illuminating different aspects of his career.

“He was a passionate advocate for the actor and the theatre,” Dr Pender said. “He was not only talented, but warm and gregarious. People were very kind and generous when they spoke of him. He was also very articulate and clear and sensitive, and because of this I could get a sense of him as a person.”

Enright’s list of hits is long and diverse. The Boy from Oz, the story of Peter Allen, went on to become one of Australia’s blockbuster musicals and starred Hugh Jackman. One of the essays in Nick Enright: An Actor’s Playwright explores the way Enright added psychological complexity and artistic depth to the portrayal of Allen rather than succumbing to the commercial priorities that often dictate the form of a “jukebox musical”.

In 1993 Enright’s heart-wrenching screenplay Lorenzo’s Oil was nominated for an Academy Award. It featured Hollywood heavyweights Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte. Nick Enright: An Actor’s Playwright looks at Enright’s portrayal of guilt, morality and illness, with a discussion of Lorenzo’s Oil as a contemporary morality play.

Enright was born in Maitland, NSW, and his passion for drama was uncovered at the early age of six when his next-door neighbour – who happened to be John Bell of the Bell Shakespeare Company – showed him scenes from Macbeth using a simple home-made toy theatre box. When Enright left school, Bell encouraged him in his belief that it would be possible to pursue a career in theatre.

Enright’s formal training was at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts. His first professional production came in 1978; it was followed by a distinguished list of works that were performed around the country – including the classic Australian musical Summer Rain, and the dark and often disturbing Blackrock. He also taught acting to students across Australia and the United States.

“UNE has a successful and vibrant Theatre Studies program,” Dr Pender said. “Nick Enright: An Actor’s Playwright is an example of what can be achieved when we collaborate with individuals and institutions in the industry.”

Nick Enright: An Actor’s Playwright is published by Dutch publisher Rodopi and is Volume 12 in a series of works on Australian playwrights.

“From editing this book I have learnt the importance of popular theatre in Australia,” Dr Pender said. “I have even more respect for musicals – the way they touch people, the joy and humour they bring, and the effort it takes to create a success.”

A PHOTOGRAPH taken at the Sydney launch of Nick Enright: An Actor’s Playwright, showing (from left) Drew Forsythe, Anne Pender, Susan Lever and Tony Sheldon, can be seen by clicking on the image of Dr Pender displayed here.