Vale is at once a wickedly funny story about a calamitous New Year’s Eve party, and a deeply tragic tale about inter-generational resentment and inheritance.
New Year’s Eve parties are often a bust. All of the frivolity, fun and expectation leading up to the big bang of fireworks fizzles out so quickly once the clock ticks over to a new day.
Vale isn’t a bust, but the New Year’s party within the show certainly is. This family meeting between wealthy hotel-owning parents Joseph (Mark Saturno) and Tina Vale (Elena Carapetis), their proud daughter Isla (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), her ambitious boyfriend Angus (James Smith), and his fun-loving mother Diana (Emma Jackson), goes quite wrong. It’s a wild ride of very funny dialogue, tense showdowns, dark introspection and twisted plot turns that are best left to discover in the theatre.
The story takes place within the penthouse suite of a ’boutique’ hotel owned by the Vales. Mark Thompson’s set design here is quite perfectly tasteless, and serves as an outward expression of the family’s venality. Nothing gels in their decoration of gold curtains, Greek columns, gilded paintings, a grand (golden) piano and dated 90s finishings, but hey, it probably cost lots of money and that’s what matters to Joseph and Tina.
Any story about an opulent yet horribly decorated family-run hotel empire will bring comparisons to Donald Trump. While it’s true that there are Trumpian aspects to Jospeh Vale and his brood, Mark Saturno’s portrayal of the character is infinitely more interesting and complex than the sitting President of the United States. Joseph Vale is a volcanic, maybe villainous man, but Saturno imbues him with a combination of charisma and patriarchal idiocy that keeps the audience’s attention locked to him. He’s horrible, but boy he’ll make you laugh.
Playwright Nicki Bloom’s script is woven with seams of refreshingly dark humour, word play (Moët anyone?), and philosophical quandries surrounding inter-generational change, inheritance and responsibility. Geordie Brookman does well to bring these threads to life in his cast, and those players must be commended for navigating hairpin turns between hilarious dialogue and seriously dramatic revelations. The chemistry between Smith and Cobham-Hervey as a young couple is comforting, while the lack thereof between Carapetis’ tragic Tina and Saturno’s Joseph is darkly foreboding.
Walking a wire between comedy and dramatic, almost classical tragedy, Vale takes its audience on a roller coaster of fun and fear throughout, leaving them with plenty of lines to quote and plot points to unpick once the curtain comes down.
Vale continues at Dunstan Playhouse until Sunday, December 3
Photography: Chris Herzfeld