Lara is interstate working as a dancer to support her two young boys back in Sydney when she receives a call that their father, who was supposed to watching them, hasn’t been home for two days. She has the weekend to fly home, take care of her boys, find her partner, and settle the situation before returning to Cairns by Monday. This one-woman production is about the battleground of family and addiction set in Sydney’s public housing.
This is the world premiere of The Weekend, written by Henrietta Baird, a Sydney dancer whose debut play was first showcased as a development in the Yellamundie National First People’s Playwriting Festival as part of the Sydney Festival in 2017. The Weekend is a semi-autobiographical story of Baird raising her children in the Redfern/Waterloo area while facing the challenges and threats of public housing, drugs, addiction, violence, and the government removing her children.
Liza-Mare Syron’s direction opens the production with a movement sequence mixing martial art styled movements and repetitions with hand-wringing and subtle gesticulations akin to everyday domestic rituals. It’s a strong opening which contextualises Lara (Shakira Clanton) as someone who is performatively in control of her body and her space. Over the course of the play, it becomes clear that Lara is in a lot deeper than she wants anyone else to know.
Simon has gone missing, perhaps on a drug bender or perhaps on more permanent abandonment terms, but Lara is set on finding him, following his movements into the seedy parts of Redfern and coming across some unsavoury characters. Ronnie is Simon’s dealer but maybe her sister DeeDee is, as well, and Courtney and Betty seem to know Simon a lot better than Lara herself does. She’s slipped into a world of Simon’s that she has never been welcome in and she feels a constant threat of these women’s experience and power. Lara’s insecurity comes through most strongly in her jealousy, as she accuses every woman she comes across of sleeping with Simon. It’s an honest reaction to an unexpected situation, but it seems exaggerated for Lara to feel most threatened by this aspect of her partner’s duplicity rather than anything else that has gone wrong.
Lara’s retelling of her evening focuses on the humour of her discomfort in these unfamiliar surroundings with the set up that Lara is a good girl with a job, a house, her children, and no debilitating addiction in comparison to these other women. On the surface, it’s a simple narrative of finding connection and familiarity with the other which, in turn, leads to you understanding yourself a bit more. When Lara returns to her home trashed and her boys in hiding, she has to contend with the tightrope she treads between her life and that of Ronnie or DeeDee.
Production-wise, the overall pacing seemed disconnected from the narrative; waning and wandering unnecessarily in some places and speeding up or repeating when greater tension-building could have been more effective. Syron implemented a strong sense of authenticity to the production which prioritises the story over theatrical technique or style. Clanton’s delivery and Syron’s direction lean toward organic storytelling more so than refining a script.
The design from Kevin O’Brien is simple with a square of carpet and three mirrors used to recreate the huge variety of spaces Lara has to travel through. By lining the mirrors with LED strip lighting, the lighting design somewhat incongruously mimics a night at Kings Cross rather than within derelict domestic spaces, where the majority of the action takes place. This use of minimal space and light was most effective with Clanton’s interaction, whether stepping through a lit hallway, ducking around cars, or gazing up at the Redfern towers.
The Weekend as a world premiere of a debut play has the bones of something powerful and captivating but which may need refining or re-centring of the most effective images. The team at Moogahlin Performing Arts, however, should be commended for bringing this painful story to the stage as a reminder of the tangling of loss and hope.
The Weekend is running at Carriageworks from January 18th – 23rd as part of the Sydney Festival 2019