State Highway 48 tackles middle age and mental health

Every theatrical production is a high wire act, requiring guts, skill and a little luck. A musical taking on the timely topic of depression and middle age requires a lot of all the above in order to engage and entertain. And, while I applaud Old Rockers Inc taking this topic on, and giving life to a production that first surfaced in 2014, there are some fundamental flaws that push success out of reach for director Geoff Turkington and crew.

Either a musical has a great script that is enhanced with music and song, or such powerful music and songs that the story is carried by those elements. State Highway 48 falls between these, with a script not quite allowing the actors to build engagement with the characters for the audience, and a set of songs that never get dark and gritty enough to be blues and stir the soul or powerful enough to move the emotions. Clichés are presented as tent pole moments and the music and songs just roll from one to the next with very little light and shade.

It’s not that the subject is not important and potentially emotive, it’s just that emotional targets such as depression grinding you down, separating you from those you love and causing you to take your hand off the steering wheel while moving at high speed through life do miss their mark.

state highway 48

First night production issues aside, the set and staging are clumsy, creating great gaps that occasionally make you wonder if the show has suddenly ended. The cast battle through and while Chris Tempest shines as The Black Dog and Jenn Shelton gives a standout performance in song, the others struggle to inject enough life and energy so that you genuinely come to care for the characters and are moved by the journey they find themselves on. 

An important topic and an all too common issue for many folks, State Highway 48 doesn’t do justice to the struggle with depression and the impact on those affected. It leaves you frustrated that all the guts and effort in the show ends up with it falling from the high wire and flopping to the ground.

A brave and worthy effort hamstrung by weak music and a thin story. State Highway 48 is on at Bruce Mason Centre until 19 October.

Reviewed by Mike Hales.