July 19, 1985

It wasn’t only a weak end

The Weekenders, by Ray Harding is the Adelaide Stage Company’s latest production in The Space.
Harding has had TV successes including the recent tele-movie, I Cant Get Started. Unfortunately he writes less effectively for the more precise requirements of the stage.

The play concerns three couples each of whom believes they have the exclusive use of a shack on the river for the weekend. Complications arise when it transpires that a divorced couple and their new lovers, as well as their teenage daughter and her boyfriend, have all laid claim to the house at the same time.

In little time the lovers and boyfriend are sitting on the bleachers with the rest of us watching the reconvened nuclear family slug it out.

Now Noel Coward and Alan Ayckbourn can turn tart dialogue to good satiric effect but Harding has Tom (Alan Becher) and Barbara (Fay Kelton) bickering away like two people who’ve seen too many George Segal movies.

We don’t see characters still troubled by the residue of their marital emotions and attempting to act graciously in new relationships, but a series of one-liners from the ark (“How can I tell you’re lying? You’re lips are moving”). And one sentence paragraphs that just about give the actors the bends trying to deliver them. And there is no let up.

The comedy needs modulation and restraint and Harding gives no opportunity for the wit to work pungently on the potential seriousness of his intention.

Perhaps the real difficulty is that Harding’s intentions are not clear. In the first act he contrives to get all his characters on stage for a bitter farce with the last scene closing on the women barricading themselves in the dorm while the men start on the Scotch.

But by .the second act he has evacuated all but the family and awkwardly shifted to an encounter session for which neither characters nor audience have been prepared.

It is not possible for us to start taking these stereotypic assemblages seriously and the revelation that the whole situation was set up by the daughter to effect a reconciliation is cumbersome and unconvincing.

Director John Noble has opted for pace, which is all he could do considering the amount of freight in the script, but the direction and performers generally suggest a lack of confidence in the enterprise.

The lead, Alan Becher is energetic but the mots are not bon enough to conceal the fact that Tom the-painter-turned advertising-artist is an uninteresting cliche and Fay Kelton’s Barbara is too wooden and censorious to engage us at all.

The support cast never manage to be much more than jottings on the back of an envelope with the exception of some funny cod-faced non sequiturs from Grant Piro as Lionel, the teenage boyfriend.

Harding concedes the dramatic difficulties of the play when one character observes that watching two people discuss their marriage like a swimmer going down for the third time is not his idea of fun.

He’s not wrong.

As the play closes with Tom reaching for the telephone one wonders if he’s calling central casting in the hope of reinforcements.

The National Times, July 19, 1985, p.35 (?)

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