Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Geoff Cobham: The Family Behind the Vale

Family members working in the same place is rarer than it used to be, but not so for actor Tilda Cobham-Hervey and lighting designer Geoff Cobham. The daughter and father’s work-lives often intersect on stage, as it does in upcoming State Theatre Company South Australia production Vale.

Vale itself is a story based on family, written by rising Adelaide playwright Nicki Bloom, and follows one brood’s darkly comical New Year’s Eve. Mark Saturno is in the lead as patriarch and hotel tycoon, Joseph Vale, alongside Emma Jackson, Cobham-Hervey, Elena Carapetis and James Smith as the encircling family. Cobham-Hervey plays Vale’s daughter, Isla, who the young actor describes as a “very privileged” individual.

It’s not Cobham-Hervey’s first time playing a daughter, having done so in drama and comedy productions such as Things I Know to be True, F*cking Adelaide and 52 Tuesdays. Nor is it Cobham’s first time watching his daughter assume a fictional father onstage.

“I think families are a great way to start a conversation about the world,” says Cobham-Hervey of those roles and productions. “Most stories and a lot of plays are about that. There’s so much drama that comes out of that, as we all know from our own families.”

tilda-cobham-hervey-geoff-cobham-vale-adelaide-reviewTilda Cobham-Hervey (photo: Sia Duff)

“It’s quite confronting to watch your daughter in a play, playing out relationships,” Cobham says. “It makes me think about our relationship, too.”

“It’s true,” adds Cobham-Hervey. “I’ve had a lot of [fictional] Dads. A lot of them.”

“I actually meet her dads sometimes, too… I’ll be working and see someone and say, ‘Oh, aren’t you Tilly’s dad?’… We’re the brotherhood of all the men who’ve been Tilly’s dad.”

As it turns out, the pair has worked together ever since Cobham-Hervey was little, alongside her mother and Cobham’s wife Ros Hervey, herself an accomplished performer, arts administrator and educator. Cobham-Hervey describes their relationships as one complemented by a spirit of artistic collaboration.

“I see my parents as my parents and also as co-collaborators,” she says. “Everything that I do, they are inherently a part of because we have very similar taste and we’re all so passionate about this industry that it’s very easy to have conversations about it.”

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Geoff Cobham (photo: Sia Duff)

As for many people working in the arts, their professions are all-consuming activities and stretch beyond the working day.

“For example,” Cobham-Hervey says, “Dad’s just done this amazing exhibition in the Samstag. To make it he was testing it in my bedroom. I would wake up and there would be weird lighting tests in my room. That’s how integrated it all is.”

“As a family, we don’t go hiking,” Cobham says. “We go to festivals. Our holidays are arts-driven. At home in our down time, we don’t go to sport; we go to theatre or a gallery. It’s a very different relationship that we find normal, but when we encounter the rest of the world, it’s a shock to realise that we’re so like-minded.”

That love for the arts even saw Cobham collaborate with his daughter on the now-immortal Adelaide Festival party venue/art installation Barrio, with Cobham-Hervey devising many of the interactive activities of the space.

“I was a 50-year-old man trying to create work for young people,” Cobham says. “My brief was to find a way for the festival to find a new way to connect with young people, so working with a young person was fantastic. She was able to inject fresh new things the audience might relate to.”

tilda-cobham-hervey-geoff-cobham-vale-adelaide-review(photo: Sia Duff)

This artistic enthusiasm doesn’t stretch to one member of the family: Huey, the youngest son. A recent visit to the Venice Biennale was a joy for Tilda, Geoff and Ros, but proved torturous for a younger lad.

“He was made to keep a journal on the holiday because he was missing school,” Cobham-Hervey says. “One day we read his journal, and it said, ‘Today we saw more art’ with a sad face next to it.”

“Now you cannot even drag him into a gallery,” Cobham says. “He’ll put his heels in and ask, ‘Is it like Venice?’, and we go ‘Uhh, yeah’. It is the best gallery in the universe, Venice Biennale, and it’s his benchmark of the worst thing you could do to him.”

“We’re trying to open our horizons now as a family with other activities,” Cobham-Hervey says.

Cobham-Hervey’s entry into the arts was always one of burning desire, the pair says. After working with her parents on shows as a kid, she couldn’t see herself in any other profession.

“I actually couldn’t think about anything else I would do,” she says. “I’m not sure if that’s because I grew up with it, or because I found a real love for it.”

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Behind the scenes of Vale (photo: Chris Herzfield)

With Dad working on Vale’s lighting design and Daughter on stage, the pair’s work intersects more in its performance than the development period, as Cobham describes the pleasure of observing a play develop from the wings.

“It’s quite a luxury,” he says. “I love sitting up the back of the rehearsal room and watching Geordie [Brookman, Vale’s Director] work with all of the actors.”

Vale
Dunstan Playhouse
November 17 until December 3
statetheatrecompany.com.au

Header photo: Sia Duff

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