Through the thick haze and wash lights, the three piece band of performers that make up Valerie can just be seen, shimmering like figures from the past. Clocking the guitars and drums, you can tell, this is going to get loud. Last Tapes Theatre Company’s Valerie is an intimate, intense and forceful show that combines the shock, awe and atmosphere of gig theatre with a deeply personal and absorbing nature of autobiographical performance.
Valerie does not fail to satisfy.
Robin Kelly plays the grandson of the titular Valerie. He married into a family with a history of mental health disorders. We see how today the youngest of that generation is starting to look back onto his family tree, to consider with new scientific understanding the genetics of such conditions and the ramifications for the current families. This inspires the grandson to attempt to tell the story of his grandmother. It is a grungy rock ballad to the difficulties of love and resilience, particularly when the one you love is suffering, wrapped up in heartbreaking modesty, that Valerie herself doesn't think there is much to tell.
Instead of focusing on a linear plot or empirical truth, the show leans into creating atmosphere, mood and gut-wrenching sensations almost phenomenological in their nature. You can feel the ebbing rage behind some of the tracks that comes off the stage in palpable waves. Frankly, I need more 1950s housewives furiously playing electric guitar in my life. It is such a glorious juxtaposition between original story and the chosen communication method of gig theatre.
The three performers of the ensemble are made up of Valerie’s grandson, Kelly, his partner, Cherie Moore and Tom Broome. There is an eerie mirroring of the generations when the current generation, Kelly and Moore play Valerie and her husband Graham; an uncomfortable doubling that only comes from autobiographical work.
There is always a mistaken perception when people try to make art about science that it is going to be a dull lecture, losing time to make sure the audience is up to speed enough to get the nice metaphor. Valerie succinctly sidesteps this trope because there is the omnipresent reminder that the science had a real personal impact on those on-stage before us.
If you are looking for a warts-and-all examination of the strain mental health disorders can have on a marriage, and the family as a whole for that matter, Valerie does not fail to satisfy.