DramaNorth WestPhysical TheatreReview

A Brave Face – Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Writer and Director: Rachael Savage

Reviewer: Daryl Holden

Offering a painfully truthful and poignant look into the cause and effect that Post Traumatic Stress can have on an individual, What Vamos Theatre have created with A Brave Faceis nothing short of impressive. Even more impressive then, is that they manage to do it all without saying a single word.

It’s 2009 and two very young lads are ready to swap their Xbox controllers for a rifle. Little does our unfortunate protagonist Ryan know, his eagerness will soon turn to fear, as the horrors of war scrape their way into his mind, and spill into the lives of those around him.

The story here really is one to be experienced rather than read off a page, it’s visceral, emotional and downright heartbreaking at times. To have a piece do so much in the way of storytelling without having to tell you a word is such a breath of fresh air that you don’t know you needed it until you get it.

To make up for the lack of an aural stimulus, we require a visual stimulus instead, and we get it in droves. There’s so much imagery to unpack in this piece, that if every image truly spoke a thousand words, the theatre would be filled to the roof with pages.

The most obvious and striking imagery is the use of masks. Every character, of which there are numerous, have a completely unique mask, etched with a permanent expression, but that doesn’t make them any less human. Their cemented expressions in this hostile world are the only constant from start to finish, and the physicality of the actors wearing them make you believe that sometimes their masks are their real faces.

The cast are fantastic, to say the least. There’s a huge amount of multi-rolling in this show and the cast of five do an outstanding job to make sure that every characterisation, from the way they walk to the way they shrug their shoulders, is completely unique to that character. The relations between each character too, are just as well thought out. From the mother-son cooperation to the banter of squaddies, every single movement detail has been thought about here, and it shows.

The set, sound and lighting too have been fully realised. The transforming set changes multiple times through the show to provide scene changes and different uses of space, making us believe that this is a real world instead of a stage.

Sound and lighting too, play a huge role in filling in the gaps where the physicality sometimes can’t match the preciseness of a written text. But we’re not exposed to flashes, or gunfire or even explosions. No. This is a piece offering a look into the mindset of individuals suffering from PTS and Vamosrealise that sufferers may also be in the audience, and we are all treated equally. Explosions are replaced with blackouts, gunfire is replaced by light drumming mixed cleverly into the soundtrack playing throughout the piece and we are not in the slightest way taken out of the scene for a moment because of it.

The only true negative of this piece is that it isn’t for everyone, even though it truly should be. With a runtime of close to ninety minutes and no script, the piece asks for a lot of investment and thinking power, which not everyone who watches may be willing to provide. Even though the piece was under ninety minutes, it sometimes felt longer, courtesy of one or two scenes seeming to last for an extended period of time for no real reason.

That said, A Brave Face is one of the most unique shows doing the rounds on the British theatre circuit at present, and you’d be a fool to miss out on the experience it offers. What A Brave Face accomplishes so effortlessly is the notion that sometimes the hardest war to fight, is the war you bring home. And it does it all without saying a single word.

Reviewed on 17 April 2018 | Image: Contributed


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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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