If we begin at the bottom, like playwright Nicki Bloom’s Joseph Vale, do we ever feel entirely comfortable once we ascend to the pinnacle? With themes like these, State Theatre Company’s latest play 'Vale', starring Mark Saturno and Tilda Cobham-Hervey, is very much a modern Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, without the singing. It is a play where most notes ring true, save for perhaps the discordant finale.
'Vale' opens on New Year’s Eve in the luxurious penthouse home of Joseph (Mark Saturno) and Tina Vale (Elena Carapetis) who are impatiently awaiting the arrival of their newly minted law-graduate daughter Isla (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and her beau from an inferior class, Angas (James Smith). The fuse on the powder keg is lit, though, with the unexpected arrival of Diana (Emma Jackson), Angas’ chain smoking single mother. It is a familiar tale of star-crossed lovers that is given a fresh and relevant modern twist.
Joseph Vale, an ocker Donald Trump, a narcissistic hotel magnate, is a fully realised character worthy of a series of plays, or a pilot TV show on the ABC. Saturno embodies the seething and petulant bully, as he hoovers down Moet and belittles all who cross his path.
Image © Chris Herzfeld
His immense wealth is but a thin shield against his rampant imposter syndrome though. Carapetis radiates emptiness as the mogul’s oppressed wife, while Cobham-Hervey, Smith and Jackson each delightfully skewer and satirise the power couple. While Cobham-Hervey’s character joyously revelled in the rebellion against her upbringing, she demonstrated that there were limits; no matter how much we despise our parents, they remain a part of who we are. Does not a total repudiation of all that they are necessarily reflect upon ourselves? The answer to this question of parental influence is the show’s central thesis, and it is around this that the narrative’s climactic twist revolves.
This swerve, inextricably woven into the narrative of the show, though, is so absurd, illogical and telegraphed that when ultimately revealed, the audience’s reaction sounded more like a moan than a gasp.
As a dark comedy and in the tradition of 'Pirates of Penzance' and 'HMS Pinafore', the finale is not without precedent but it probably needed to be hammed up instead of being delivered po-faced. As such, 'Vale' is a play that was an almost entirely enjoyable journey that led to a somewhat disappointing destination.