Printable Copy19 WEEKS
Adina Grand Treasury Adelaide
Until 17 Mar 2018

Review by John Wells

This is a remarkably powerful and emotionally relentless production. It is impossible to leave the theatre unchanged and unmoved.

Set with great imaginative flair in the subterranean swimming pool at the Adina Treasury Hotel, (the front row sits on the edge of the pool, legs dangling in the water), “19 Weeks” combines raw and nuanced writing with a transfixing central performance.

Emily Steel’s play tells the autobiographical story of her decision to terminate a pregnancy at nineteen weeks. It is an almost unbearably intimate confession. Steel’s writing is courageous and unvarnished: she reflects unflinchingly on her choices with clarity and balance. She embraces the complexity and ambiguity of her decision. The script is impeccably structured, with a devastating momentum, and is punctuated with beautiful, illuminating detail and flashes of humour.

Tiffany Lyndall Knight splashes into the pool and dives into the narrative. She matches the immediacy of the text with an affecting and disarming performance. Her ability to connect with the audience is extraordinary. We are so close – so close that she touches and splashes us – and her eye contact creates a beautiful and sometimes emotionally confronting level of connection. It is impossible to look away. There is great subtlety and skill at work here. Knight fills the awful, fraught story with humour, charm and genuine feeling. The little moments of excruciating detail – the back-and-forth phone calls with doctors and nurses, the reactions of her toddler son, her husband’s powerless support, the emails from overseas friends – are wonderfully handled and add to the overall strength of the production. Knight is utterly convincing.

The text and the action are artfully woven together by Nescha Jelk’s direction. (Daisy Brown directed the first production in 2017.) Jelk focuses on the emotional truth and creates an absorbing, riveting atmosphere. The pace is perfectly judged. Jelk crafts stunning images by using the pool and the simple props with devastating effect. The choreography of the dives, flops and splashes are unerring theatrical choices.

Ultimately, this challenging, affirming and loving play is a plea for understanding and compassion. Steel rails quietly against superficial judgments. I left the pool with damp feet, damp eyes and an exhilaratingly broken heart.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)