Toni Scanlan explores lifelong friendships in The Weekend

by | Jul 28, 2023

Australian author Charlotte Wood’s bestselling novel of friendship and the wisdom of age, The Weekend, is set to make its world premiere at Belvoir early next month. Adapted for the stage by the acclaimed playwright Sue Smith the play explores growing old and growing up as it follows four older women who have had a lifelong friendship of the best kind.

Actor Toni Scanlan ( perhaps best known for her role in the  police drama, Water Rats)  plays the character of Jude, one of three friends we spend time with in the play (the fourth, Sylvie, has died). Jude was an experienced restaurateur who, Scanlan says, is pragmatic to a fault – someone who has compartmentalised her life to such a degree that it might be said she is not fully present. Jude has also had an affair with a married man for 35 years and holds this very tight to her chest,  never talking of it to friends.

“Her journey is an unravelling of a kind, to see beyond what she thinks is important and true. This is precipitated by the death of a close friend who served as a “toe rope” to all three of the women in the play,” says Scanlan

As serendipity would have it, Scanlan was given Wood’s novel a couple of Christmases ago and really enjoyed it, so, she says,  was thrilled to be offered the role and to be able to tell the person who gave her the gift.

Wise, funny and compassionate, the story examines the idea that change and growth are possible at any age while exploring the themes of ageing, friendship, love and fear of the last chapter. Scanlan believes Wood is saying “look after your friends, they are family and look to yourself for peace and look upon the world, if you can, with kind eyes”.

On the one level a tragic tale ( surviving friends coming together to pack away the life of one of their number now gone) but on another level, a story of hope and celebration.  Scanlan hopes the play will engender conversations about maintaining friendship through hard times, not at all costs, because sometimes they run their course. When is that and why? And about how we humans navigate our way to that last chapter and how can we find a way to not fear it. 

An intriguing inclusion is a puppeteer/puppet who Scanlan describes as another actor in the show. “No less real than the other characters,” Scanlan says. “It is interactive with all the characters in the play and has about it an “otherness” that takes us far over and away from mere flesh and bones.”

Then, at the heart of it all,  there is an old dog who keeps them company but who is also a silent witness to the folly of old age, and the warmth of true friendship.

Australian screenwriter and playwright, Sue Smith has adapted the work for the stage and, says Scanlan, fans of Wood’s novel should expect a visceral, visually stimulating experience that is sensory and alive.

For Scanlan, the most joyful moment in the rehearsal room was meeting Fin the dog for the first time. The challenge would be, she says,  as always, “finding out who the hell you are and making that as real and as detailed as possible.”

From Switzerland at STC (2012 – 2016 she was the Resident Director at the Sydney Theatre Company) to Sunday at MTC (2016 – 2020 she was the Associate Artistic Director at the Melbourne Theatre Company), acclaimed director Sarah Goodes leads the team. Scanlan says the rehearsal room is a better place with Goodes in it.” She is rigorous, highly imaginative and radiates warmth which fills a rehearsal space with so many possibilities. An amazing problem solver – really, she has it all going on.”

Scanlan (Stop Girl, Opening Night) has been around for a long time and knows what she wants from a character and story. “Characters that are 3 dimensional. Written with an understanding that every person has a story to tell – not just to fill or service another more important character,” she says. ” That is NOT to say that it needs to be a big role, on the contrary, every character in a play or a TV show should be 3 dimensional and important.”

The Weekend has been described as a special play – moving, honest and thoughtful – Scanlan believes this show might be really, really beautiful. And curious. It may take us somewhere else.

August 5 – September 3

THE WEEKEND – Belvoir St Theatre

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