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Review: The Weekend at Belvoir Street Theatre

Review by Scott Whitmont

Based on the bestselling and award-winning novel by much loved Sydney author Charlotte Wood, Sue Smith’s faithful adaptation of The Weekend explores issues of friendship, ageing and feminism with a deft balance between hilarity and deep emotion.

Three lifelong friends - women in their early 70s - meet together over a hot Christmas weekend to clear out the Northern Beaches home of their late friend Sylvie, readying it for sale. There’s Adele (Belinda Giblin), a once renowned actress now more out of work than in it and fearful for her financial future; Jude (Toni Scanlan), a no-nonsense former celebrated restaurateur who’s lived a semi-solitary life for decades as ‘the other woman’ to a married man; and Wendy (Melita Jurisic), a multiple-PhD holding, acclaimed academic and widow who dotes on her elderly, dementia-plagued dog, Finn - a gift from the lamented Sylvie.

Similar to the much-loved ‘Golden Girls’ of TV sitcom fame, the foursome have loved and supported each other throughout their lives despite often driving each other crazy with their varied habits and peccadillos. Jude regularly reminds them that they are not now gathered “for a holiday”. Along with the house work at hand, they must learn to navigate their relationship without Sylvie’s presence to act as the glue that kept them together. With age and life experience comes wisdom - and they each share their philosophies, motivations, hopes and fears as the weekend progresses.

Alongside them, the faithful Finn watches and acts as an unwitting symbol of loyalty, ageing and mortality. Finn is a puppet whose every movement (including the periodic loss of bodily functions) is operated with meticulous care by expert puppeteer Kila Tenencio, overseen by Puppetry & Movement Director Alice Osborne. With Tenencio’s impressive skill, Finn’s scene-stealing presence throughout The Weekend is touching, often hilarious and deeply meaningful.

Doyennes of the Sydney stage, the cumulative talent and synergy of Giblin, Scanlan and Jurisic is a joy to behold. Their characterisations of woman in their ‘crone years’ are contrasted and enhanced by the youthful contribution of Roman Delo in a variety of roles including the precocious, celebrated theatre director Joe Gillespie with whom Adele mercilessly flirts in a vain attempt to be cast as the ingénue in his new production.

The circular set designed by Stephen Curtis is the deck/terrace of Sylvie’s house with the main structure suggested as just off-stage. Props of Christmas decorations, lanterns and boxes of Sylvie’s possessions appropriately give context to each scene. Clever lighting, shadows and back-wall images by Lighting Designer Damien Cooper allow the set to temporarily and believably transform as needed to become a church, restaurant/bar or hospital. Music and sound effects from Composer Steve Francis and Sound Designer Madeleine Picard further add authenticity, context and atmosphere. Bird, storm and wave sounds and the stirring harmonies of the ‘church choir’ being particularly noteworthy.

Despite being an hour and forty minutes long without an intermission, under the directorship of Sarah Goodes, the whole production shines and never flags - an entertaining and moving meditation on friendship and the challenges of women ageing gracefully and purposefully despite secrets buried from the past and uncertainties ahead. A celebration of facing life’s challenges and of love of many kinds, The Weekend is jam packed with wisdom and humour, pain and joy to which all theatre goers will doubtlessly relate - particularly women ‘of a certain age’. Don’t miss it.

Image Supplied


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