Theatre Review – Vile

Published in The Australia Times – September Issue:

Set in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne, VIle is a production that examines the repercussions of conflict and abuse, yet offers a hope for second chances and how they emerge when you least expect it.

Retold through disjointed time sequencing, the play introduces us to Melanie Ryder – a naive, young woman who is still trapped by the life she suddenly left 10 years earlier. Attempting to get her life back in order, she tracks down an old high school flame, James Freely, while reconnecting with her estranged mother, Linda. In doing these she embarks on a path of redemption and forgiveness, piecing together the missing answers to the questions she’s had her entire life.

The play opens with a definitive bang – the lights dim down, and the spotlight focuses on a still, unmoving body. Melanie is then shown to be next to him, with James discovering the dead body and telling her to run away, fearing she may be persecuted for her manslaughter. From here, the production jumps to-and-fro from 1999 to 2009, with a projector clearly indicating the time period to prevent confusion from the audience. The purpose of the two specific time periods is to illustrate the many obstacles faced by each character, and how their experiences in the past have increasingly influenced their struggle to move forward in the future. They are confined in a prison of their past, forced to relive troubled memories as they are trapped into living stagnant routines.

Although the production explores intriguing notions that are both nostalgic and relatable, the constant splicing of two time periods makes it difficult to fully appreciate the confronting themes and emotions associated with every scene. In fact, the transitions seemed rather rushed, which could have been easily fixed had the play employed the dramatic element of stillness and silence.

Furthermore, the lengthy dialogue and lack of physical movements felt like this would be more suited as a film rather than a theatre production. The tendency to tell rather than show highlighted the naturalistic aspect of acting, but the lack of eye contact between the actors left audiences with an alienated feeling, thus making it difficult for them to relate to the plot and become emotionally invested in the characters.

However despite these shortcomings, Vile is packed with a plethora of symbolism, all of which support the play beautifully as it enhances the complex issues of seeking redemption for past mistakes.

First off, the setting of Kiln Street is a symbol in itself – a kiln being the type of oven that produces temperatures sufficient to complete the process of hardening or drying. In saying that, both Melanie and James are tied down to their environments, the lives in Kiln Street hardening them for the rest of their lives as a kiln oven would do with any chemical. They seek absolute freedom, and the redemption that they yearn for in 2009 offers a sense of possibility that their lives may finally move forward instead of backward.

Secondly, the surnames complement their personalities. For example, ‘Ryder’ embodies Melanie’s carefree persona while ‘Freely’ encapsulates James’ desire to leave Kiln Street and become a lawyer. The chemistry between the two is increasingly apparent through their different dispositions, but also though their similarities of being trapped by mistakes and unfortunate past circumstances.

The stark contrast between Melanie and her mother Linda is even more pronounced, not only through their awkward conversations but their actions as well. When Melanie sits, Linda stands and vice versa, with the simple movement symbolising their disconnected relationship. This soon changes as the play progresses as Linda too begins to sit down with Melanie, symbolising her attempt to reestablish a relationship with her only daughter and accentuating the notions of forgiveness.

While Vile does present an excellent array of complex issues that are both riveting and fascinating, it’s a shame that the production is held down by a draggy script and choppy transitions. Unfortunately, it’s a case of good concept, poor execution. But despite this, Vile can be relatable on many different levels, and because of this the play has the potential to be a cathartic experience for anyone also seeking redemption in their own lives.

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