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Theatre review: Vale


State Theatre’s new play seeks to tackle issues of wealth and privilege, but its message becomes muddled amid the melodrama, writes reviewer Greg Elliott.

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The artistic team working on Vale, State Theatre Company of SA’s latest production, has considerable theatrical experience: Nicki Bloom is a well-credentialed writer, Geordie Brookman has directed many plays, and the cast is a mixture of experience and young talent.

Individually, their skills are evident, but in this play they present a night of predictable melodrama which perhaps intends to shock but instead is like a television soap opera with a deadly twist.

Vale is the story of Joe Vale (Mark Saturno), a self-made man who has risen to the top of the hospitality game and now owns a chain of hotels with his wife Tina (Elena Carapetis).

On New Year’s Eve in a luxury penthouse apartment – designed by Mark Thompson and well lit by Geoff Cobham – they are visited by daughter Isla (Tilda Cobram-Hervey) and her lover Angus (James Smith). Uninvited, Angus’s mother Diana (Emma Jackson) arrives as well.

The ensuing dialogue and family conflict is largely clichéd and ridiculous, involving disingenuous two-dimensional stereotypes, while the performance styles and plot development are unclear: there are snippets of Edward Albee’s psychological intensity, Shakespeare’s lost identities, George RR Martin’s family complications and Greek tragedy vengeance, all under the umbrella of Australian naturalism.

Revelations see family tensions run high. Individuals change their supposed fixed positions and attitudes to life according to their changing circumstances, yet by and large there is no audience attachment to these characters and therefore little interest in what happens to them.

James Smith and Tilda Cobham-Hervey in Vale. Photo: Chris Herzfeld

Hilary Kleinig, of Zephyr Quartet, has composed some compelling, beautiful music to drive the moments of drama, but unfortunately the dialogue doesn’t match the quality of the music.

The muddled writer and director’s notes provide no clarity on the ideas or politics of Vale, although they seem to be seeking to attack middle-aged white men in power. Generally I welcome theatre experiences that expose the ever-widening gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged, and which promote social justice and equality, but this play simply depicts a collection of wealthy people acting absurdly and one unbelievable male trying to outdo a younger, equally unbelievable male.

A play with white characters bellyaching about their problems in front of a predominantly white audience tittering at kitsch clothing, “party games” or French pronunciation serves only to reinforce privilege, not to question it.

Vale is playing at the Dunstan Playhouse until December 3.

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