Thumbnail image credit: Chris Herzfeld
Welcome to Vale indeed. Being presented with this wickedly dysfunctional family is less of a welcome, and more like ten rounds in a boxing ring. Taking place in the penthouse suite of a premier Vale hotel, the New Year celebrations of the Vale family are interrupted by the arrival of an uninvited guest, forcing long buried secrets to the surface. The State Theatre Company have capped off 2017 with a play seething with blood, anger and lashings of gold.
Starting life as a NIDA commission for the graduating class of 2015, this play from the eclectic Nicki Bloom grabs its audience from the very beginning and doesn’t let go. It is a play driven by base desires, going straight to the heart of what we hold most precious in our unguarded moments. Sex, wealth and power are the words of the day here. Inheritance, and the idea of gifts both given and taken, are juggled with delicate precision by Bloom and director Geordie Brookman. It is an especially literate play, and a surprisingly funny one, that deserves a second showing to pick up on the foreshadowings and hints that lead to the final shocking end.
Given the length, there is plenty of time to take in the breadth of the host of characters. Mark Saturno and Elena Carapetis are both perfectly cast as pumped-up patriarch Joseph and his overburdened wife Tina, while Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Isla is beautifully graceful and savage in equal turns. Emma Jackson and James Smith both give standout performances—they are both boundlessly energetic, and Smith’s attention to detail and comic timing is flawless.
The set, designed by Mark Thompson, is one of the finest crafted for the Dunstan, as gold and glass cascade down from the heavens to create a wonderfully solid setting. The costumes by Thompson are also remarkably deft, as Saturno and Cobham-Hervey are pitted against each other in dressed-up and –down versions of each others costumes. The music and sound, crafted by composer Hilary Kleinig and sound designer Andrew Howard, is striking, seething under the surface to create a perfect atmosphere of tension and dread.
If meeting the Vale family is similar to a boxing match, then you can imagine what leaving Vale is like. The play’s emotional punches are landed to maximum effect, making for a rewarding, if draining, experience. This is a stellar production, and signals a move forward into new and exciting territory.