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Review: The Weekend at Sydney Festival

By Hamish Stening

The Weekend is a moving snapshot of Aboriginal life, housing commissions, and the extreme difficulties that families in these situations face. Solo performer Shakira Clanton is funny, likeable, and very engaging, and whilst the central protagonist’s character arc could perhaps be better written, the comedic writing, the plethora of heart-wrenching moments in the show, and the show’s clever design make The Weekend a touching and enjoyable show.

The show is about Lara, a Sydney mother who, while away for work, receives a call from her youngest son. He and his brother have been left alone by their father who was supposed to be looking after them. Lara has the weekend to track him down.

As Lara travels across Redfern following vague leads and seeking information, she meets many struggling Aboriginal public housing tenants each with their own character flaws and tragic backstories.

Clanton has the extremely difficult task of playing Lara and all of these other characters. Her acting range and physicality make it very easy to tell these characters apart, but she certainly does not caricature them. Each character is realistic and authentic, and as a result has great pathos.

Perhaps Clanton’s greatest accomplishment, however, is her humour. Her animation and comic timing are superb, and this not only makes the show very enjoyable, but also accentuates the great strength of the characters. The humour contrasts the drug violence and fear that the characters have to live with, and highlights the courage and hardiness of the real tenants of Redfern’s housing commission towers.

The show feels very authentic. In both writing and performance, it has a strong Aboriginal voice. The audience is inexorably drawn into the story and instantly cares for Lara. She is the centre of this story, and despite hearing about the hardship of the other characters, it is her character arc that we care most about. It is a shame then that we don’t get to see that full arc.

[Spoiler warning!]

By the end of the show, Lara decides to leave her husband. He is a drug user and incredibly violent, but he is still the father of her children. Lara did not have a father growing up and did not want the same fate to befall her children. However, she eventually realises that acting like he does, he is not really a father to them at all. Unfortunately, we only hear of his unfatherly behaviours, Lara’s wish for her children to have a father, and their unconditional and unquestioning love for him near the very end of the play. As a result, the beginning of Lara’s search for her husband lacks conflict and comes across as unimportant to the story and Lara’s character arc. This negatively affects the audience’s engagement with the plot, Lara, and ultimately the show.

Worse still, when Lara does finally have her realisation, the play ends. There is no final challenge, no test of her new wisdom and newfound drive, no climactic triumph, and no validation of her character arc. As a result, the show feels rather anticlimactic.

That being said, the heart of this show prevails and audiences will love it. The body of the text is touching and humorous, Clanton is fantastic, and the production elements (particularly the lighting that looks beautiful and cleverly defines settings) are effective. I strongly recommend seeing this show.

Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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