Books & Literature

Book Review: Showtime! by Judy Nunn

HISTORICAL FICTION: A story that will take you from the cotton mills of England to the magnificent theatres of Melbourne, on a journey through the golden age of Australian showbusiness.

Set in Melbourne’s early theatrical days, a sweeping drama of family rivalries.

Including short stories and anthologies, Judy Nunn has written more than 30 books, but this is the first I have read. She is possibly better known as an actress, having had a long-term role in Home and Away on Australian television. In this book, she has returned to her roots in theatre as a topic, with the focus on Melbourne’s entertainment industry during the gold rush era of the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century.

The author introduces the Worthing family while they are still in England, working at a terrible cotton mill and in a foundry. The story moves from an omniscient narrator in a prologue to Emma, a daughter of Max and Gertie, who explains how her parents, and her father’s brother Will and his wife Mabel, had together decided to pursue a theatrical career in Australia. There are several further interventions by Emma and it is an interesting literary device as it provides the reader with a foretaste of what is to come without spoiling the tension of the story.  

Tension in the narrative arises from the changing and challenging relationships between the Worthings and their collaborators Carlo and Rube — London East End orphans who had originally come to Australia as teenagers to make their fortunes in the goldfields. However, they had quickly discovered more money could be made in the burgeoning entertainment business and their success had attracted a partnership offer from the Worthings who were looking for new talent.

Nunn has certainly done her research on the theatrical industry at the turn of the 19th to early 20th century, as she has on the horrors of WWI, interweaving history into the fictional lives of her characters. Judy Nunn’s work specialises in Australian historical fiction and this book has a plain, direct style with no lyrical prose, making it easily accessible. While the pace of the book picks up in the later chapters, I found a number of the problems, issues or incidents which impacted the two main families to be somewhat predicable.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: September 2021
RRP: $32.99

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