Three friends, aged in their 70s, are set with a task: clear out their dead friend’s house on a blisteringly hot Christmas weekend. Adapted from the Stella Prize nominated novel by Charlotte Wood, The Weekend invites its audience to examine their own relationship with life, death and friendship.
Full disclosure — I’m generally averse to grief performed on stage; get it wrong and it’s overdone, trivialising complexity and pain to mere performance. The Weekend does not stumble into this pitfall. Instead, it is a heart-warmingly frank and surprisingly funny demonstration of life itself.
Jude (Toni Scanlan), an aggressively type-A former chef just trying to get the job done and Wendy (Melita Jurisic), a former public intellectual mourning the loss of her husband alongside her friend, open the play. Wendy’s elderly dog, Finn (Keila Terencio), is represented by a puppet, and is a ghostly presence, and instantly reminds Jude and Wendy of their own failing bodies, and friendship.
Belinda Giblin as Adele, an out of work actor, delivers a standout performance that immediately warms the stilted and exposition-heavy opening. These performances are furthered by the accomplished costuming (Ella Butler), which is a tell-all about each character before a word is spoken.
A simplistic table and water feature don the stage, with the lighting (Damien Cooper) and sound design (Madeleine Picard) effortlessly transporting the audience from deck, to beach, to eucalypt forest, to pumping rural RSL. The practical nature of the set design further highlights the frank approach to what it means to die, and allows such lines as “You don’t know anything about death until you’ve looked at it in the eyes… until you’re bent over in a shower washing your husband’s scrotum”, delivered heartbreakingly by Wendy to hang momentarily in the air. Indeed, this is the reality of death, far from a sanitised exit from life, it is often marred by indignities. This play does not let the audience forget it.
Throughout The Weekend, I realised that my blueprints of female friendship only extend to the age of forty — above that I can only conceptualise blobs of children, partners and work. The Weekend challenged that notion in its entirety. To see Adele, Wendy and Jude united by grief, but still dancing, laughing and smoking, just as I have with my friends some fifty years their junior, filled me with an intangible hope. It is this uniqueness of the story that enables the characters white affluence, something that can become suffocatingly boring in theatre, to fall away, as friendship, in its infinite complexity, takes centre stage.
Young people may feel that this story is not for them, but I couldn’t disagree more. It’s rare that we get such insight into friendship in the twilight years. I can only hope to dance as shamelessly, cry as earnestly and wee as publicly as Wendy, Jude, and Adele when I’m their age.
The Weekend is on at Belvoir until September 10. Student Saver tickets begin at $37. I think you should see it if you like friendship, humour, and your mum, which almost everyone does. Checkmate buddy.