Michael Futcher and Helen Howard, The Wishing Well (Sydney: Currency Press, 2009), 115pp
The Wishing Well is another capable offering from the Australian playwrights Michael Futcher and Helen Howard, though of the three of their plays published by Currency Press, I liked this the least. A Beautiful Life was an uneven first outing but held the reader's interest through its intriguing and relevant subject matter (terrorism, and the struggles of immigrants to assimilate into a new culture). The Drowning Bride bowled me over, an emotionally powerful piece of art which improved on all the promise of A Beautiful Life with a fascinating family drama revolving around the past sins of a former Nazi collaborator. The Wishing Well retains many of the tropes and trappings which characterised those earlier plays, which are executed ably, but the story itself was less interesting. The previous two plays extracted their drama from the slow-reveal of various skeletons-in-the-closet, with our understanding of the characters constantly evolving throughout the plays as more details about their pasts emerged. In The Wishing Well, we already know what anguish is plaguing Edith (the loss of her terminally-ill son Tim) and the things that we don't know from the outset are only small details, rather than large bombshells (like, for example, who Tim's father is, though it is predictably clear who it is as soon as the character is first introduced). Consequently, we don't invest in the characters as much as we did in the previous plays, even though Futcher and Howard still put them through the emotional wringer.
There are a number of things to praise in The Wishing Well - a major one being that it has more humour than its predecessors - but it lacks some of the focus that the previous two possessed. Perhaps this is because whilst A Beautiful Life and The Drowning Bride were based on true life stories of the couple's close friends, The Wishing Well is a composite work which, Futcher and Howard admit, "although inspired by true events, is primarily a work of the imagination." (pg. xi). The major strength of the previous two works was their faithful and respectful chronicling of true life stories, adapted with necessary dramatic changes for the stage. This is not to say that The Wishing Well is a bad play, for it is not, but in moving away from what made their previous plays so engrossing, they have not really played to their strengths here.