A man with 5 children

ZENITH THEATRE: Enright’s ‘A Man With Five Children’ follows documentary-maker Gerry (Peter Multari) who interviews five children for one day each year up to their twenty-first birthday.
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Imagine being interviewed about your life every seven years. Really: give it a try. Imagine telling the world where you think you’ll be in seven years’ time, and where you thought you’d be now. Imagine knowing that, in a year’s time, you’d have to account for the past seven years and all that you have – or haven’t – achieved. It’d certainly encourage a sense of urgency, like knowing you only had a year left to live. Indeed, I can imagine that these interviews would be very much like a series of small deaths.

The Up documentary series, which began in 1964, will see its eighth instalment, 56 Up, released around the end of next year.

Nick Enright’s A Man With Five Children is based on a similar premise: documentary-maker Gerry (Peter Multari) interviews five children for one day each year up to their twenty-first birthday. His subjects include Indigenous Australian Jessie (Lily Balatincz), working class Cam and Zoe (Stephen Multari, Hayley McInerney), high-achieving Susannah (Lindsey Chapman) and low-achieving Roger (Bali Padda). What we soon discover is that, however inadvertently, Gerry doesn’t document their lives so much as direct them, which is to say that he creates ‘reality television’.

While undeniably interesting, there are a number of inherent problems within this set-up which, to my mind, Enright fails to resolve in the writing. One is that the central character, Gerry, by always maintaining his mildness, his neutrality as ‘the impartial observer’, comes across as a bit flat. He is, after all, in almost every scene, and really is the focus of the play (as he watches the others, we watch him – and through him, ourselves). Similarly problematic is the way that, because each scene represents a passing year, the pacing of the narrative is accelerated, verging on soap opera: one moment someone is pregnant, the next they’ve suffered a miscarriage and someone else has been in a serious car accident, etc. While that seems to be Enright’s intention, in execution the characters and their stories still come across as a bit underwritten.

Nevertheless, this is an engaging play. The cast all give strong performances in their respective roles, and Mackenzie Steele’s direction has a seamless, televisual quality which is both appropriate to the material and impressive on purely theatrical terms. Alice Morgan’s stage design, with its large white boxes seeming at various points to represent playground equipment, televisions and gravestones, is also highly effective.

A Man With Five Children is a timely production, flawed but well worth seeing. It may take some of the fun out of watching MasterChef, but that only means you’ll have more time to go to the theatre.

A Man with 5 Children

By Nick Enright

At: Zenith Theatre
Cnr Railway & McIntosh Streets
Chatswood NSW 2067

Sat 8:00PM, 17 Jul 2010 to Sat 8:00PM, 31 Jul 2010

Ticket Prices
Adults: $26, Concession: $20, Groups 10+: $20

Willoughby City Council – Phone 02 9777 7547 or online

Gareth Beal
About the Author
Gareth Beal is a freelance writer, editor and creative writing teacher who has written for a range of online and print publications. He lives on the NSW Central Coast with his wife and two cats.